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The Eschatological Day of Atonement


Scripture: Daniel 8-9

Leading Question: How can Jesus help us address the issues in Daniel 8?

In addressing the multiple issues connected with Daniel 8, let’s start with the answers instead of the questions, and here Jesus should be our guide. First, it’s clear that in Daniel 8, God’s enemies are polluting his sanctuary. Even the two beasts, the ram and the goat are “religious” symbols, clean animals suitable for sacrifice – in contrast with the wild and vicious animals of Daniel 7, for example. God’s enemies must be confronted because they are destroying people and undermining the principles of God’s kingdom. But how do we confront God’s enemies according to Jesus? Jesus himself taught us that we should love our enemies (Matt. 5:44) and on the cross he prayed to the Father to forgive his enemies (Luke 23:34). But Jesus wasn’t just gentle. When faced with those who were destroying other people he could flash with anger. And there was something special about his anger, for when he cleansed the temple, the evil people fled and the children came running (Matt. 21:12-17). That is a blessed kind of anger that we could all covet. And it is interesting to note that nowhere in the Gospels is there any record that Jesus ever struck anyone. Yet Jesus told stories with violent endings and punishments. Clearly one shouldn’t just shrug at evil. But how we approach it requires careful thinking and much praying. In the New Testament epistles there are numerous virtue lists. Anger doesn’t appear on any of them and patience appears in them all. Yet holy anger still has its place.

When Jesus summarized his message, it was very simple. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). In other words, in its simplest form, Jesus focused on the second great command, not the first. With reference to Daniel 8, that means we should deal gently with opposing views, seeking whenever possible to develop a both/and approach. We will take up the various issues in turn.

1. Multiple Applications. In a sense, this issue is the easiest one to address from a biblical point of view, but one of the hardest for devout believers to accept. Two examples are crucial here:

A. Day of the Lord/Dark Day. In the historicist view of things, each event has its own special niche in history. Each event happens just once en route to the final fulfillment. In the lead up to the Great Disappointment, three events took a central place in the thinking of those who expected Jesus to come: 1) The Lisbon earthquake of 1755; 2) the dark day of 1780; and 3) the falling of the stars in 1833. But even a superficial study of the Old Testament prophets reveals that the heavenly wonders were a standard feature of the “Day of the Lord” expectation. And “Day of the Lord” was any imminent disaster. These local disasters then became types of the final “Day of the Lord.” Thus in Joel, for example, the dark day is a grasshopper plague in Joel’s day; Peter picks up this same prophecy and applies it to the events surrounding the crucifixion; those same events were picked up and applied in the 19th century, and in Revelation 6:12-16, they appear again with reference to the second coming. But writing from a strict historicist perspective, Uriah Smith still dates the earthquake, dark day, and falling stars to the traditional historicist dates and events. On balance, however, these celestial signs are all repeatable events leading up to the final climax of history.

B. Desecration of the Sanctuary. When Daniel heard that the sanctuary would be restored, his only thought was of the sanctuary desecrated by Babylon in 586 BC. As history moved on, Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded the temple precincts and offered pig on an altar to Zeus erected over the altar of burnt offering. For three years, the sanctuary had been desolated. The event was so striking that 1 and 2 Maccabees, apocryphal books of the intertestamental period, used all the language of Daniel to apply to the desecration perpetrated by Antiochus. Even such a traditional scholar as C. Mervyn Maxwell, in hisGod Cares, Vol. 1, 1981 (p. 269), declares that it is “possible” that the disciples themselves may have accepted that application. Then in Matthew 24:15 Jesus spoke of Daniel’s “desolating sacrilege” as an event still future, most likely pointing to the destruction of Herod’s temple in AD 70. Summing up, one can apply the “desolation” language of Daniel to the destruction of 586 (Babylon), the pollution of 168 (Antiochus), the destruction of AD 70 (Rome) – and still look for the ultimate desolation of the heavenly sanctuary. When all earthly sanctuaries have been destroyed, what sanctuary remains? We have two choices: the heavenly sanctuary, or we could adopt the dispensationalist futurist approach and envision a rebuilt earthly sanctuary on the site of the Moslem mosque in Jerusalem. Given those options, the heavenly sanctuary should be a clear choice.

2. Applied Historicism: Broadening the Possibilities. The phrase “applied historicism” is one that seeks to retain the basic “historicist” application while allowing for other applications in light of the characteristics of the original “historicist” application. [See Alden Thompson, Beyond Common Ground (PPPA 2009), 194-220.] The book of Revelation already seems to have adopted such an approach by referring to Babylon as a “code” name for Rome. Rome is never mentioned in the book of Revelation. It would not have been safe. But the readers could make the application as needed.

If events and characters in Scripture can be seen as types, then the types can be applied as needed. Such an approach has another advantage of allowing “historical” applications without requiring the application be locked in concrete forever. This correlates well with the biblical presentation of conditional prophecy. Jonah, for example, preached to Ninevah – and Ninevah repented; by contrast, the Prophet Nahum preached a strong condemnation of Ninevah; but by contrast once again, Isaiah 19:24-25 promises that the Assyrians will be part of a restored kingdom with Israel and Egypt. Something like that approach allows Garry Wills, a devout American Catholic, to write a scathing rebuke of his own Catholic tradition under the title, Papal Sin (Doubleday, 2000). As one thoughtful Adventist commented, “We don’t have to give away the book The Great Controversy; we can just give the people Papal Sin!”

3. Advantages of a Both/And Approach. A simple reading of Daniel 8 without an array of scholarly resources yields a straightforward result: God’s enemies have desecrated his sanctuary, and God promises that it will be restored. And when God gives Daniel the interpretation of the vision, Scripture clearly states that the vision applies to the “time of the end” (Dan. 8:1719). That is not in the past as preterist interpreters would argue, applying the vision only to the time of Antiochus Ephiphanes; that is not a one-time event in the future as the dispensationalist futurists would argue; it is not even a specific time period beginning in 1798 as strict historicists would argue. The “time of the end” will be a great surprise and we simply must be ready for it at any time. One of the clearest statements of that truth is from the pen of C. S. Lewis, and it would apply to our understanding of Daniel 8:

We must never speak to simple, excitable people about ‘the day’ without emphasizing again and again the utter impossibility of prediction. We must try to show them that the impossibility is an essential part of the doctrine. If you do not believe our Lord’s words, why do you believe in his return at all? And if you do believe them must you not put away from you, utterly and forever, any hope of dating that return? His teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions. (1) That he will certainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly find out when. (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him. – C. S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 107.

4. The Link between Daniel 8 and 9. In the official study guide, just one day’s study is assigned to the link between 8 and 9. A host of important issues lurk there. Establishing the link between the 2300 days of Daniel 8 and the 70 weeks of Daniel is an important exercise and the traditional arguments are sound. What is so striking from the standpoint of our place in history is that Adventists are almost alone in seeing Jesus as the “anointed one” in Daniel 9 – all the more reason to explore a both/and approach to our prophetic heritage. After the article on Daniel 8, another one follows on Daniel 9.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

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