Monthly Archives: May 2013

Peace in the Middle East? Part 2

This post will be fairly technical and targeted especially for Christians interested in end time theology. It will seek to answer the question “What will identify the beginning of the end times? Our answer will be, “the establishment of a significant treaty between many nations centred around Israel”. This post will seek to answer this question as simply as possible. It will suggest that the emerging, current context of conflict, tension and power alignment discussed in part 1 may well lead to a treaty signalling the beginning of the end times so we should watch and pray with heightened alertness.

For many reasons outside the scope of this post to investigate fully, it is possible to show that the unfolding events in the history of Israel form a means by which we can discern the timeline of God’s plan. In other words, we can see where we are in God’s plan today by what is happening to Israel. From this we can infer that we are not in the end times yet, but we are approaching them and we are near. We make a distinction between the last days which begins with Pentecost about 30 AD and spans the whole church age and the end times which is associated with the emergence of the end of the age ruler (sometimes called the anti-Christ). We understand that the key verses that mark that starting point (although it would take too long to explain the reason for that here) are Daniel 9:26-27 from the seventy sevens prophecy.

Our understanding of this prophecy is different from many. An earlier post explains why the periods of seven are not periods of seven years. We also indicated that the Hebrew text of Daniel 9:24-27 is highly ambiguous. We believe the reason for this ambiguity is intentional for these verses are highly structured so that they can form a template whose interpretation only makes sense when slotted into their correct contexts. And there are three contexts which fit; we call them scenarios! The fact that it is structured should be expected since scholars now know that Hebrew text is often structured and that the structure carries substantial meaning and clues to its interpretation. Discerning that structure, if present, is therefore of critical importance. So I want to write these verses in a way that exposes their structure.

The final two verses make a statement about a covenant for the final period of seven preceded and succeeded by a tri-colon. To explain this, Hebrew text can contain multiple lines (or colons) in a thought unit. These lines each add to the thought and can be parallel, inverted parallel, opposite or in other kinds of related thoughts. If there are two lines it is a bi-colon, if three a tri-colon and so on. The bi-colon is usually unmarked, but if the writer wants to vary from this to serve some special discourse function, he will usually mark the thought unit in some way. For example, we see that Psalm 1:1 is a tri-colon marked by the phrase “Blessed is the man”, whose three following thoughts identify characteristics he does not have.

In Daniel 9:26-27 we claim the author does this by beginning the two tri-colons with a time phrase. Typical of Hebrew writing, the most important thought is in the middle rather than at the beginning. Here that central thought is framed by the two tri-colons, each of which contains an opening time phrase followed by three balanced and matching phrases.

Daniel 9:26
After sixty-two sevens
(A) an anointed one will be cut off and will have nothing.
(B) People of a coming ruler will devastate the city and the sanctuary and its end will be with a flood.
(C) Until an end of warfare, desolations are decreed.

Daniel 9:27a
And he will make a strong covenant with the many for one seven.

Daniel 9:27b
From the middle of this seven
(A) sacrifice and offering will be made to cease,
(B) and upon a wing desolating abominations,
(C) until an end which is decreed will pour out on the desolator.

Careful consideration of the three lines in the thought unit shows that they are related; the cutting off of the anointed one with ceasing of the sacrifice and offering, the devastation of the city and sanctuary with the desolating abomination and the continuation of the effects of these things until the end. The two time phrases identify a period of time which must be within the period of the final seven and so the events in the tri-colons must be concurrent. It is also apparent that Daniel 9:26 deals with physical effects whereas Daniel 9:27b is associated with religious ones.

This structure is highly significant and to our knowledge has not been recognised before. We’d be delighted if it was accepted, but our expectation is that it will produce many objections. For one, it challenges those who interpret the passage as describing events in chronological order. Our conviction is that the heart of the message is the middle statement which is framed by two statements which are chronologically in parallel, because the first statement is fulfilled after sixty two sevens which must therefore be within the final seven and the other occurs in the middle of that seven. The two statements outline the events which will occur within that seven, whereas the middle statement indicates that the strong covenant is put in place at the beginning of the seven, not the middle of it as some interpret. This structure is quite typical of Hebrew literature as explained above, although in this case it has some unique features.

In general, the prophecy is focused on the survival of Israel and the answer to Daniel’s prayer although it will take a long time and Israel will suffer greatly in the process. If you study commentaries on Daniel you will find that the prophecy is usually interpreted so that the “coming ruler” in Daniel 9:26 is one of three authorities, (1) the end of the age ruler or (2) Antiochus IV or (3) a Roman general. In our view, the prophecy is written as a template which can be applied to all three authorities and which then leads to three distinct scenarios . Each covers a period of time when Israel’s survival in the Promised Land was severely threatened. So rather than being applied to just one of the three authorities identified above, all three are covered. In all scenarios, the crisis is in the final period of seven. In the first two scenarios, the final seven is short although not seven years. The final seven in the first scenario is still future and will be the worst and will begin when the end of the age ruler appears and the strong covenant will then identify the beginning of the end times. The second scenario was completed when Antiochus IV attempted to impose Hellenism on the Jews before he died in 163 BC. In the third scenario, the whole period of Jewish history starting with the return from exile to the end of the age is covered, with a focus is on rebuilding Jerusalem, the persecution and scattering of the Jews under Rome, the death of Jesus, and the Jews survival through a long period of difficult times.

When Daniel received God’s answer in Daniel 9, he only knew of one scenario to which it could be applied; that was the message he was given in Daniel 8. In the final vision, he was given the other two which can be identified by the phrase “the abomination that causes desolation”. Interestingly, this phrase is plural in Daniel 9:27, but singular in Daniel 11:31 and Daniel 12:11.

The reason we cover all this is in order to explain that only in the first scenario is the final seven still future. The “he will make a strong covenant with the many for one seven” in Daniel 9:27a is what initiates the end times and is therefore a crucial event still in the future whose occurrence will mark a key synchronism between current affairs and God’s plan revealed in the Bible.

Let’s examine Daniel 9:27a for this first scenario. Note there are at least 3 ambiguities that can lead to different interpretations, (1) the identification of the “he”, (2) the identification of the many and (3) the length of the period of one seven.

Firstly, who is the “he”? Normal grammar would connect it to the previous, immediate antecedent which in this case is the coming prince who will devastate the city and the sanctuary. The parallelism between phrase “B” in Daniel 9:26 and Daniel 9:27b suggests that the devastation occurs in the middle of the final seven and causes worship to cease. We connect this to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 which speaks of a coming invasion of the location of the sanctuary which should cause God’s people to flee Jerusalem in urgent haste. So the “he” in this scenario is the end of the age ruler.

Secondly, who are the “many”? Our conviction is that these are many nations and the “he” will be the leader of one of them, but he does not necessarily have to come from the most powerful of those nations.

Thirdly, with regard to the length of the final seven, if we connect this scenario to Daniel 8 we are told there that following the defilement of the location of the sanctuary there will be 2,300 evenings and mornings until the end of the little horn. This is most likely to indicate that the period is literal 24 hour days which equates to about 6.3 years. The overall period of the final seven would therefore be perhaps 10 to 20 years since the defilement of the temple location is somewhere in the middle of this seven.

By the way, in our understanding of this scenario, the anointed one cut off in Daniel 9:26a is the nation of Israel. In this respect, it is most enlightening to read Isaiah 53 as a prophecy with dual fulfilment, applying to Jesus at His first coming and to Israel in the end times.

So the key event we are looking for is a major treaty involving many nations probably including Israel although that is not essential from the text. To me this will signal the beginning of the end times. Of course, the treaty could be initiated for many reasons, so we will have to wait and see what happens. We will also need to discern whether the treaty has the right stature and significance, because Bible prophecy is quite high level. This may only be possible after a period of time. It will also give us clues as to the identity of the “he”.

The discussion about a treaty initiated by the U.S. and Russia to bring peace to Syria, also involving many Middle Eastern countries, may lead to a major treaty with the right stature to be this key event. We must watch and pray because the end times could soon be upon us.

I believe that if a treaty occurs soon, for whatever reason, many Christians will miss its significance for a while because of their end time theology. This will be particularly true for those who see the rapture occurring seven years before Jesus returns. The situation will not be unlike the Jews during Jesus’ first coming who expected the Messiah to overthrow Rome and take world wide authority. Because their interpretation of the Bible was wrong, they failed to recognise who Jesus really was. It may also be missed by those with a dominion slant, because they are expecting the church to embrace the world and God’s kingdom to be established on earth before Jesus returns. We are in interesting times!

Thus, in these days, we need to be alert and on the watch and prayerfully seek to understand what is happening so we can guide our people through the coming crises. We must also weigh up events and be alert to what the Spirit is saying so we rightly understand what is happening. That is why we must test our understanding very carefully with the word of God and hold onto what is good.

The permission of God to allow Satan to carry out damage is significant in the book of Revelation. It stems from God allowing mankind to reap what they have sown. God’s grace operates to prevent wars and disasters occurring until the appointed time. Satan continually tries to throw God off His plan and precipitate conflict He does not desire. In part, this is one of the lessons we can learn from Daniel and Revelation especially.

The outcomes of the evolving tensions in the Middle East are having significant impact on the alignments of major powers. Some have not yet shown their hand, but they are certainly watching very closely and will act if their own security is threatened. The outcome of a major treaty seems very possible. In all of this, it is hard to envisage the terrible suffering of civilians especially in Syria. So this is also God’s opportunity as many turn to Him in their desperate cry for help. This is how I believe we should pray. It is the salvation of as many as possible that is at the centre of God’s heart.

In all this turmoil, God’s mercy is available to everyone no matter how evil they have been. Anyone who calls on the name of The Lord will be saved. This is what we must pray. Also, when peace comes to Syria, there may be open doors for a short time in a narrow window. We need to stay alert.

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Israel’s Independence

The nation of Israel is in a very unique, but fragile position. It is a very powerful nation surrounded by other nation’s which are jealous of its prosperity, hate its presence and would destroy it if possible. These nations will form alliances with it if that is advantageous to them, but there is no certainty that they will continue long term. These nations will also tolerate peace treaties if necessary. But underlying all this is a jealous hatred and a deep rooted anger. In fact all the nations of the earth harbour deep wounds that go back 1,000’s of years. Even within the nations around Israel, there is anger against the corruption of wealthy rulers which lead to rebellion as witnessed by the current conflict in Syria and all of Arab Spring. But there are bigger forces at work. Outside powers are seeking to capitalise on the Syrian conflict to gain political advantage for themselves as well as desiring peace to come. To add to the complexity, the Syrian conflict is now adding a Sunni verses Shiite flavour.

But overall, Israel is a very fragile nation. Although there are strong, sympathetic elements within some outside countries, especially the U.S., ultimately the U.S. will make decisions to support Israel only if it continues to be advantageous to do so.

So Israel will retain its independence to the extent necessary for its survival, even if it receives enormous help from the U.S.

Given the Bible’s forecasts that there will be one more successful invasion of Israel, we infer that there will come a time when the U.S. will not be able to provide the support that Israel needs. Extrapolating from the current situation, this most likely will occur because of economic weakness. It already seems apparent that the U.S. is reluctant to directly involve itself in Syria and the internal position is more and more favouring Assad’s survival, primarily because of the support from Iran, Hizbollah and Russia. China also seems to favour Assad although it is unclear whether this is more than words. At the same time, the U.S., Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have backed down from the level of support they were giving to the rebels. Perhaps because some of the rebels are terrorist organisations. So Russia is gaining influence and the U.S. seems to be losing it.

Will this trend continue?

What of Egypt, Sudan and Libya? Egypt is in a dire situation economically. In fact, it would seem that Israel’s immediate neighbours, although desiring to see Israel removed, will not have the power or capacity to do very much.

In the end, it would seem that Israel will have to defend itself from its own resources. It will have to fight alone the might of all the surrounding nations. In the end, the U.S. is likely to lose its influence in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia and other oil rich nations in the Middle East will not be supplying oil to the West. The West’s economy will decline so that their focus will be on maintaining their internal condition. Although internally still powerful, they will not be able to project their military power into the Middle East. Israel will be isolated. This will set up the conditions in the Bible for the final invasion of Israel. The end time picture in the Bible could be arrived at in many ways and the Bible does not give us a lot of detail, however, the above scenario seems to be one plausible way that picture could be reached.

Whatever transpires, Israel must track its own unique path. It cannot yield on Jerusalem. It will not yield on the West Bank or Gaza unless its security can be guaranteed. Eventually, the surrounding nations will try to impose their favoured solution on Israel. The conditions are heading towards those that the Bible describes, especially in Ezekiel 38 and 39.

End Time Uncertainty

An emerging debate in the world wide church concerns the history that will unfold leading up to the return of Jesus. There is no debate within the church about the fact of His return.

Many Christians are expecting an acceleration of God’s work around the world and there is much evidence that this is happening. Some are looking forward to a coming revival. It is very exciting to be living now! I am firmly convinced as a Christian, that I can live victoriously with Jesus and that churches that follow God intimately are and will live victoriously too. There is no room for “doom and gloom” thinking when we have such wonderful and certain expectation of the hope that lies before us in God’s coming kingdom.

What concerns us in this post is the widely divergent understanding within the church of how this will happen. In some respects, the different views are opposite to each other. How can this be when we all love God, love His word and regard it as totally accurate and an authoritative guide?

I would suggest the reason is obvious. We are basing our end time theology on portions of the Bible which have many different and controversial interpretations and on basic assumptions that are not verified. The main ones are (1) the seventy sevens prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27, (2) the interpretation of “this generation” in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 24, (3) the understanding about the time, times and half a time and the 3½ and 7 years and (4) the assumption that literal interpretation of a passage implies that what is described will occur in the chronological order in which it is written.

Because of this, it is my guess that the vast majority of end time theologies are of the order of only 50-70% correct.

In summary form, the major viewpoints are as follows.

1. On one side there are those Christians who see the church growing so that most nations become largely Christian enabling God’s kingdom to be set up on earth before Jesus returns. In theological terms, these usually hold to a “preterist” or “partial preterist” view, are usually “post-millennial” and may adopt some form of “dominion” theology. The number who hold to this view seems to be growing.

2. On the other side are those who see the church entering into an end time revival followed by the rise of the antichrist, world wide persecution of the church and a world wide time of trouble before Jesus returns. After Jesus returns, His kingdom is set up on earth and He will reign for 1,000 years – the millennium. Some of these believe that true Christians will be removed from the earth seven years, 3.5 years or just before Jesus comes back. In recent times, there is an emerging, growing group of Christians who see the kingdom of the antichrist as being Islamic rather than emerging from within Europe (the revived Roman Empire). Overall, I get the impression that the number in this group is declining as they shift to the opposite view reflected in 1.

3. There is then a third group who adopt a “safer” interpretive approach so that their understanding of the end times is less assertive and less specific. Only general conclusions are made which calls into question why much of the relevant passages were ever written especially as they seem to provide a lot of detail, but the interpretation is unable to say what it means other than in general terms. Some of these have partially overcome this by adopting parts of views 1 and 2.

4. Then there are a huge number of Christians who are confused and don’t know or who avoid looking closely because the uncertainty is unedifying and a waste of time for them.

I believe most of us would agree that this is a most unsatisfactory situation, because God intends that we will be prepared for what is coming on the world. Currently, this uncertainty results from the last major area of unresolved Biblical theology, perhaps representing 20% of what the Bible teaches.

In my view, there are many plausible interpretations especially for apocalyptic literature, but we have to find the best one. The best interpretation will meet the criteria of unifying the whole Bible, cause passages which were previously ambiguous to become clear, explain previously obscure passages and not be founded upon passages whose interpretation is controversial and unclear. To achieve this, the end time theology must not only explain all relevant passages, but it must also show why the alternative interpretations are less suitable or incorrect. Very few existing works, if any, do this.

My own view is closest to the second viewpoint above, but has many differences. I believe we are already in the final revival and have been for more than 100 years, but that there is an acceleration of the outpouring of God’s power. The antichrist will be Islamic and will emerge soon in a world in deep distress because of huge economic decline, water and food security problems and the impact of global warming. The whole church will come under persecution and will be refined and forced underground. We will see amazing things and experience the glory of God and have all things in common like the early church.

Peace in the Middle East? Part 1

Over the last few years, it appears that from time to time tension mounts in the Middle East and war involving many nations seems very likely. Then the protagonists appear to back off. Such a war between many would also be significant since there has not been a major war with such a large number of nations directly involved since World War 2 or perhaps the Korean War.

The current civil war in Syria is, as we all know, a humanitarian disaster. It is also most extraordinary because there are many nations who have aligned their support behind one side or the other in Syria and have therefore succeeded in prolonging the conflict. At the same time, although not directly at war, these nations are fighting their political battles behind the scenes without direct military conflict, but through providing supplies and training and perhaps advisors on the ground. Some want Assad to remain in power others desire a more democratic government to be put in place. Underlying all this is the dark shadow of the world economic crisis, the threat to water security and climate change. Our inference would be that nations are far more reluctant to enter direct conflict because it is so expensive in money as well as life and the outcome very uncertain. To a certain extent, the U.S. seems to be exhausted by its many wars and reluctant to be caught up in another. Iran also seems reluctant although threatening war, probably because they know they are not yet strong enough.

To illustrate, around August 2012, reports suggested that there was a substantial military build up by the major powers and that many of the Middle Eastern countries were preparing for war. Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia very definitely were. Saudi Arabia especially was (and still is) very concerned with war against Iran, at least in part because their oil production would be severely threatened by the huge economic impact that would result. The U.S. reportedly positioned 4 aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and France was sending one there too. There was also a build up in the Eastern Mediterranean with Russia positioning substantial forces there in part to prevent intervention by the West in Syria. The UK and Greece and probably other nations were also involved as well as the US, Israel and Turkey. Then the tension eased.

Thus, the threat of many nations at war rises and falls. In recent days, bolstered by the military support it has received, Assad seems to have recovered somewhat leading to the situation that the internal war could drag on for much longer. So it is heartening to read that now it seems that the U.S. and Russia, who are on opposite sides, are talking of coming together with many nations and seeking to find a treaty solution to stop the disaster. At the same time, Russia seems to be strongly backing Assad, whereas the U.S. clearly wants to see a democratic government without Assad. Surely, in all this mess, a solution which brings peace to Syria would be best. But perhaps, it is oil and gas supply, lack of trust and fear of economic collapse that underlies everything.

At the same time, the antagonism of many nations against Israel never seems to abate. Israel’s political stance is always motivated by long term survival; that of the world to stop fighting now in the quest for peace. So any kind of military intervention by Israel always leads to strong protests from many nations just wanting to stop immediate conflict without giving Israel the security that it seeks. Since Israel has returned to the land of Abraham in the last century, the many attempts to stop their return or to expel them from this territory have failed. And they have failed catastrophically with huge loss of life and great pain. Hamas, who control Gaza, continue to maintain their charter to destroy Israel and so continue to be technically at war with her. By Hamas refusing to back off from their aggressive stance, the people living in Gaza suffer tremendously and have attracted the sympathy of the world. Recent history reveals the fact that all nations that have attacked Israel have suffered far more and continue to live in relative economic poverty.

When we study the Bible, we discover that it paints a picture of the approach to the end times where all nations who oppose Israel will suffer tremendously. That is exactly what we are seeing unfolding before our eyes.

My personal alignment in this is towards God and towards all the nations. God loves the world and by His grace I am working towards more love for the world as well. Although I am tremendously grateful to the descendants of Abraham, because they have given us the knowledge of God and Jesus, I also recognise that all nations have given us wonderful leaders and terrible ones too and many in between. But the Bible is very clear, God will vindicate His name to the world and He will be utterly faithful to His promises. It would be far better if we would fear God more than our neighbour; that would be the beginning of wisdom. It would also be better if our loyalty was to the world first and our nation second rather than the other way around. Then our commitment would flow with God’s desire.

Our Energy Future

There is growing, world wide debate and research about energy supply and cost, its impact on climate change, food supply and water security and the world’s economy. Underlying all these outcomes is the world’s burgeoning population, currently over 7 billion, which published research such as the annual “Living Planet Report” now suggests it is at least 1.5 times the population that our planet earth can sustain. Currently, we are managing to support this population, but primarily because of high technology which depends critically on energy supply and cost.

There is growing evidence that we are rapidly approaching the “Limits to Growth” projected in 1972 according to that books business as usual scenario. Our human ingenuity is enabling us to maintain our current prosperity levels and may continue to succeed in this for a number of years, but our conviction is that the limit will soon be reached which will precipitate a world wide crisis. It may be very soon or a number of years away, but we do believe that it is inevitable.

If we took action now, the pundits suggest we could still prepare for and learn to manage the lifestyle changes which are inevitable. However, the world authorities cannot help taking decisions along the lines of what will sustain or cause growth in their own nations now, because immediate demands and potential financial gains override the potential long term future pains. I’m still impressed by the title of James Hansen’s book on climate change, “Storms of my grandchildren” where he makes a powerful plea for strong action now against global warming to avoid creating a world of great difficulty for our future generations.

As we see it, our sinful human nature is fundamentally selfish and greedy and ignores God’s clear guidance to us and so we are inevitably destroying our future. For inevitably we will use wealth and resources we discover to improve our own house first before we will use it to help others.That same selfishness and greed is evident in our nations today as it has been throughout history as we prioritise their own nations welfare above that of other nations. In contrast, the Biblical standard is to love our neighbour as ourself which is a fundamentally different principle. History is repeating itself today for if we examine the past (research has looked into this closely), all previous civilisations have eventually collapsed, even the most powerful. So we believe that unless we change our fundamental character and self-preservation priorities, the current civilisation must eventually collapse. We see that the evidence of impending collapse is all around us.

The problem, is that although some of our experts continue to suggest rightly and wisely what we need to do, the fundamental nature of our modern, world wide national leaderships, does not have the inner power and philosophy to motivate and instigate those changes. As a well known writer penned many years ago, fundamentally “the love of money is the root of all evil” accurately reflects are human mindset from the beginning of history. To change our deep inner motivations requires a dramatic, fundamental religious change that only some are prepared to make.

We need to listen to the modern voices of such people as Richard Heinberg, Gail Tverberg, Lester Brown, Janes Hansen and many others who see the writing on the wall for the world of today. We should also visit web sites such as the Post-Carbon Institute and Peak Prosperity and others who are sounding powerful warnings and constructive suggestions about our future. Yes, there are many other voices that differ from these, but a study of their backgrounds suggest that many of them have a vested interest in the present which exceeds their longer term interest in the future.

I came to investigate all these things, because I first saw them in the Bible and wished to verify what I felt it was saying. I was stunned to find that the picture the Bible presents of the approach to the end times matches very well what we see unfolding today. Most end time theologies anticipate some of the things we see happening in the Middle East, but are far from seeing a picture of our modern civilisation and its collapse due to economic decline, food and water supply and global warming.

Energy supply and cost is a key factor. Our modern civilisation is founded on energy supply from fossil fuels, primarily coal, oil and natural gas. We have been extracting the fossil fuels at an ever increasing rate and as we do so, they have become harder to extract and increasingly expensive. In a general, big picture sense, this had made industrial production and farming and pretty much everything we do increasingly expensive and less profitable. There is still large resources available, but they are approaching the point where the cost of extraction is closing in on the financial return from the investment. So developed nations which rely more on industry are coming into increasing debt which they are finding increasingly difficult to reduce.

Enormous effort is now bring made to keep the good things going. Huge gains in efficiency have been made, but at the cost of making our world systems increasingly interdependent and tightly coupled. What we are doing is holding off collapse, but at the price that when it does happen it will be increasingly catastrophic in its impact the longer we continue this route. We are doing this in order to try to preserve the current glory, but at the price of long term pain rather than implementing some pain now to preserve a less glorious, but less painful future.

My perspective on all of this that what we are seeing unfold is heading towards the end time picture that the Bible presents which leads to a climax when Jesus returns. I see that it is not reasonably possible for there to be another global civilisation as long as we continue to live with a “me first” philosophy. We have lived contrary to God’s direction and are now reaping the consequences of our free will choices. God is not to blame for the current crisis and enormous suffering. We are. God has given us all we need and then some. We just haven’t listened.

References

The Living Planet Report, WWF, http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/2012_lpr/

Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update, Meadows, Randers and Meadows, Earthscan, 2005.

Storms of my Grandchildren, James Hansen, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009

Richard Heinberg is a well known author of books such as “The Party’s Over” and “The End of Growth”.

Gail Tverberg has a web site “Our Finite Planet” and is well respected for the continuous stream of quality articles she writes.

World on the Edge, Lester Brown, Earthscan, 2011

Shaking the Foundations

This is another post written for Christians who are interested in the end times. If you accept what is written here it will revolutionise your end time convictions.

For all published end time theologies up until now, perhaps the most crucial foundation comes from the interpretation of the seventy sevens prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27. Since 2006 I have had the conviction that this is incorrect; instead the key that unlocks our end time theology is in Daniel’s final vision from Daniel 11:36-12:13, the passage that has been a mystery to us all throughout the church age.

I suggest that if we think big picture, we will see that the seventy sevens prophecy cannot fulfil the foundational role that has been given to it and will continue to cause confusion as long as we try to give it this role. The Hebrew text of Daniel 9:24-27 is arguably one of the most ambiguous (if not the most ambiguous) passages in the Bible. This ambiguity is reflected in the differences in our English translations and in the huge number of different interpretations it has been given which correlate with the huge number of end time theologies. Most extraordinary is the extent to which each of us have held onto our particular view so strongly given the rather obvious ambiguity that is present.

Related to this and just as notable are the large number of commentaries on the book of Revelation which say little about their interpretation of the book of Daniel even though the bonding between these two books is so critical and the interpretation given is so tightly coupled to it.

Having said this, let’s now consider Daniel’s final vision to see why it can fulfil the role that the seventy sevens prophecy never could.

Firstly, it is written as a prophetic, historical narrative which is so accurate that many scholars believe it was written after the events described. It is therefore not written in hard to interpret symbolic, apocalyptic language and there are only small variations of interpretation right up until Daniel 11:35. This vision is not open to many plausible interpretations depending on interpretation principles as is the case with the other visions in Daniel and most of Revelation.

Second we note that the man in linen “came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come” (see Daniel 10:14). It is written so Daniel can understand what will happen to his people in the future. We should be able to as well and especially because we live after most of the history has already occurred.

Third, we note that it quickly surveys the period of the Persian Empire and then up to verse 35 covers in greater detail the period of the Greek Empire describing the various Ptolemaic kings (kings of the south) and Seleucid kings (kings of the north) which impacted Daniel’s people up until the Jews regained authority over Jerusalem by defeating the armies of Antiochus IV in 164 BC.

So in line with the purpose of this vision and the flow of the continuation of history our natural expectation of the next passage, Daniel 11:36-12:13, is that it would describe the rise and fall of the next empire to occupy Jerusalem, that is Rome. And that is precisely what it does. After searching through many books on Daniel, I was totally amazed that this option has never even been considered in the modern era and very rarely before that.

The criteria that we have applied to test this interpretation is that it must match history at least as well as the earlier description of the Greek Empire. This it does very well. The full detail of this is in a file available for download, but to give you a taste of this note the following

1. The king in Daniel 11:36 is the government of Rome. Daniel 11:36-39 describes the character of Rome in a remarkably elegant and precisely accurate way.

2. The rise and fall of the Empire is covered in Daniel 11:40-45. It is Jerusalem centric and only describes the history of Rome in Daniel’s known world which extends West to East from Greece to Persia and North to South from Turkey to the Sudan.

3. The history begins with Rome’s entry into the region with its war with the Seleucid Empire under Antiochus III. We can identify it with confidence because Antiochus III was the only major force outside of Rome which had a large navy and they engaged Rome in battle with navy and army from 192-188 BC. History tells us that Ptolemy V, the king of the south at that time, called to Rome for help against the king if the north because he was trying to capture land in the Aegean belonging to the Ptolemaic Kingdom. To accept this interpretation we have to realise that our English translators did not know the conflict that was being described and so assumed that the “king” fought against the “king of the south”, however the Hebrew text only says that the king engaged in battle with him which could equally be translated to mean that they fought on the same side against the king of the north.

4. With this interpretation of Daniel 11:40, Daniel’s perspective is that the “time of the end” starts with the Roman Empire. We must understand the book of Daniel from Daniel’s perspective for which these events are far in the future, not from our perspective today.

5. History tells us that after capturing Jerusalem in 63 BC, the Romans advanced against Petra, the capital of the Nabateans who were an Arab people who now occupied the region previously comprising Edom, Moab and Ammon in Daniel’s time. Rome accepted a bribe of 300 talents to withdraw from their attack and so fulfilled the prophecy in Daniel 11:41 precisely.

6. Daniel 11:44 describes in a very brief way the many battles Rome had to defend its Eastern and Northern provinces until it was eventually defeated by the northern tribes.

7. Daniel 12:1-4 gives us a description of the Jews persecution under Rome which is described as the worst until then. In allusion to these verses, Jesus says that the persecution of the Jews just before His return will be the worst until then, but will never be repeated (Matthew 24:21). There is a clue here that Jesus would have understood Daniel 12:1-4 as persecution by Rome, not at the end of the age.

These seven points give a taste of why this interpretation is so strong. In fact, every phrase can be shown to match history very well. Now let us see how this enables us to compute the length of the time, times and half a time.

Daniel 12:6-7 NIV
6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?”
7 The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”

The question asked by the angel assumes that the start time for the period is Daniel’s now, that is the third year of Cyrus, about 535 BC. That would be the natural way to understand the question; why many assume it starts with the king in Daniel 11:36 makes little sense. The end point is when the power of the Jews is finally broken. In the context of this prophecy, this occurred when the Jews were scattered all over the Empire and lost control of Jerusalem. History reveals that after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD they made about 10 attempts to rebuild it. The last one was in cooperation with the Muslims about 638 AD when they captured Jerusalem. The final “nail in the coffin” which eliminated all possibility of rebuilding the temple was the construction of the “Dome of the Rock” on the Temple Mount which began in 688 AD. This matches the end of the prophecy described in Daniel 12:11. Thus the prophecies of the book of Daniel, whose first was given to Nebuchadnezzar in his second year of reign (603 BC) ends in 688 AD after 1290 years. The time, times and half a time which begins in 535 BC ends in 688 BC after 1222 years. This is very different from the 3½ years normally assumed, but is far more robust in its derivation.

It is but a short step from here to arrive at the conclusion that the little horn in Daniel 7 must be Muhammed, the founder and prophet of Islam.

If we know the book of Daniel, we will quickly make a connection between the time, times and half a time in Daniel 12:7 with the one in Daniel 7:25. The results are even more dramatic. If the king in Daniel 11:36 is Rome, we can be sure that the four empires described in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 and the vision in Daniel 7 are the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires. Since the little horn in Daniel 7:8 who emerges from the Roman Empire also lasts for a time, times and half a time (TT½) as explained in Daniel 7:25 it cannot be the same period of time, it must be contiguous with the one in Daniel 12:7 and follow after it. When joined together they make a single longer period of seven, starting in 535 BC and still continuing today and with an abomination that causes desolation in the middle (Daniel 12:11-12).

The total period of time from these two TT½ must exceed 2,500 years as the end of the age has not yet come.

The astute student of the word of God will also see that the two TT½’s matches the final seven in Daniel 9:26-27. It contains two contiguous three and one halves with an “abomination that causes desolation” in the middle. However, this is not seven years, but more than 2,500 years.

All of Daniel’s visions focus on God’s people and centre on Jerusalem. The four empires he describes in Daniel 2 and 7 are all empires which had authority over Jerusalem and interestingly each of the founders of these empires is explicitly identified. So the question must be asked, which empire has controlled Jerusalem for most of the time after the Roman Empire and who was its founder?. The answer is clear, the Islamic kingdom. The little horn in Daniel 7 must therefore be Muhammad, the prophet and founder of the Islamic kingdom.

The revived Roman Empire promoted by some must be the Islamic Kingdom