The Sanctuary

In Daniel 8, we open up a new level of intricacy in apocalyptic prophecy. The prophet Daniel saw a massive sweep of history without fully understanding the scope of what he was seeing. But while this vision continues the trend from chapter 7 of symbolizing warring kingdoms as beasts, a new element is emphasized that becomes important for understanding prophecy in the whole Bible: the Heavenly Sanctuary.

This portion of the book of Daniel can begin to make prophecy seem irrelevant and alienating. What does any of this have to do with our lives in the 21st century? Let me give you a couple important points to keep in mind before we go forward:

  • First, this vision teaches us about how God helps people in desperate, violent, uncertain circumstances. Daniel and his people have been conquered and taken into exile by foreign nations. We get to see how big of a plan God has for this world. Often, the problems we face personally or as members of a particular society are part of a much bigger picture that affects the whole world. Your life and the things happening in it matter on a global scale, just like the lives of Daniel and the exiles mattered.
  • Second, this story helps us understand where we fit in God's plan if we are not Jewish. If you are not Jewish/Israelite, you are what the people of the Bible called a Gentile. Gentiles were not part of God's chosen nation, Israel, and while God accepted the faith of Gentiles who did follow him, his plan to create a unified, multi-ethnic family of faith started with one people group and would grow over time. The story of the exile shows us important steps in how God would expand his family to include all people of the world.
  • Third, the prophecies in Daniel 8 and 9 predict very important world events with surprising accuracy. Specifically, reading Daniel 8 and 9 together gives us an accurate prediction of when Jesus would publicly present himself as the Messiah, and gives us a framework for understanding when the "end times" would begin. The accurate prediction of the coming of Jesus is an impressive feature of apocalyptic prophecy and should confirm that the Bible can be taken seriously.

So in this chapter, Daniel sees a Ram and a Goat. These two animals are picking up where the Bear and Leopard left off in chapter 7. That is to say, the Ram (ch. 8) and the Bear (ch. 7) both symbolize the Medo-Persian empire, and the Goat (ch. 8) and the Leopard (ch. 7) both symbolize the Greek empire.

But while many people recognize that there are two beasts in Daniel 8, there is actually another player here - the little horn that arrives in 8:9. If you read 8:8-8:9 very carefully and pay attention to the original language, you'll notice that the "little horn" - which ends up actually being quite powerful and influential - does not come from the goat beast, but actually comes from one of the "four winds" of heaven. The imagery of "four winds" is use to symbolize all the earth in various parts of prophecy, and in this case reminds us of the four beasts in chapter 7 without drawing too much attention away from the goat and the ram. Just like in chapter 7, the little horn does not come from the Greek beast but rather from a power after that of Greece.

Feeling lost yet? That's ok. All that this means is that Daniel and his people would be subject to multiple world powers in the coming generations, and that the power that would rise up after Greece would have a particularly problematic part that would affect the temple of God and directly challenge God's rulership of the world. This power that fights against God would be influential for a limited but long period of time, until God would finally intervene, and begin fixing the problems caused by this power.

A couple angels discussing the events of the vision predict that it would take "2300 evenings and mornings" - another way of saying "days" - before God's sanctuary would be restored to it's proper state.

This would have been very significant for Daniel for several reasons. First, when he heard the word "Sanctuary," he would have immediately thought of the temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians along with the rest of the city. Hearing that the sanctuary would be restored would lead Daniel to think that his people were going home to rebuild their lives and their holy city.

Now, 2300 days is just a little over 6 years. That is not a particularly long time, and if Daniel had thought that in just about 6 years he and his people would be allowed to return home, he would have probably been quite excited. However, we see at the end of this chapter that Daniel is quite stressed out by the vision and actually passes out from exhaustion.

At the beginning of the next chapter (Daniel 9), we see Daniel still under great stress, worried about the fate of his people. He has been worrying about the vision for a long time, and is reminded about it while reading the prophet Jeremiah. You see, Jeremiah had predicted that Israel's exile would last 70 years, and that they would then be able to return home. But while Daniel had lived a long time in exile and new that his people were supposed to be set free soon, the vision he'd had many years ago (in chapter 8) seemed to suggest that the exile would last much longer than 70 years. You see, in Biblical prophecies, and especially in apocalyptic prophecies, a day in a vision can often symbolize a year in real time. So the anguished prayer that Daniel prays in chapter 9:1-19 is so desperate because Daniel believes that God may have changed his mind and extended Israel's exile for over 2000 years! They might never see home again!

You can see how this might apply to our lives. Sometimes it may seem like the things we read in God's word and the events taking place around us in our lives simply don't add up. We think God has said he'll do one thing, that he'll help us, that he'll help us find our way home, but what we see happening around us tells a different story. Our people, our friends, our families, remain in suffering when we thought help was on the way. We expect God to step in and save the day, and sometimes his plan looks quite different.

That is what Daniel is going through in chapters 8 and 9. But God has a bigger plan for Daniel, his people, and for the whole world. God sends Daniel the angel Gabriel to explain the situation. Gabriel tells Daniel that the whole 2300 year time frame does not apply to Israel, but that God has essentially extended their 70 year exile by a factor of 7 - or 70 times 7 - since even the exile has not quite changed their hearts or caused them to fully repair their relationship with God. He tells the prophet that from the command to rebuild Jerusalem (which would eventually be given in 457 BC) until the coming of an Anointed One (literally מָשִׁ֣יחַ, Messiah) (Daniel 9:25), there would be 483 years - 69 sets of "7" out of the total 70.

What ended up happening was that the Medo-Persian empire - the power symbolized by the Ram and the Bear - allowed the Jewish nation to return home to Israel and begin rebuilding their lives. In the meantime, the other beast kingdoms that Daniel saw in his visions (Alexander the Great and Greece, then the Roman Empire) would rise up, conquer Israel, and essentially extend their exile experience for another 400+ years. According to the timing spelled out in Daniel 9, 483 years after the Jewish nation began rebuilding Jerusalem in 457 BC brings us to 27 AD (not 26 since there's no year 0 between BC and AD), which would be right around the time that Jesus would have begun publicly preaching and working as the Messiah.

We also know from the book of Hebrews (in the New Testament) that the temple that was built and re-build in Jerusalem served a symbolic function: it symbolized a greater reality that exists in heaven, the Heavenly Sanctuary. Hebrews 8 tells us that Jesus not only offered himself as a sacrifice when he died on the cross, but that he also serves as a priest in heaven now, presenting his own sacrifice as the reason for God to forgive people's sins. The events of Daniel's prophecies, with all the nations amassing power, the focus on the temple, and the emphasis on a "Son of Man" Messiah figure who would both come to Israel and receive authority to rule and judge from God himself, all of them pointed forward to the reality of Jesus. Daniel saw a foreshadowing of the reality we benefit from today: we have Jesus standing in the heavenly temple, representing all of us before God. Jesus is bringing us home from our own spiritual exile and making us right with our Creator.

Other events would fulfill other parts of Daniel's vision, but this is already enough to look at for one post. What we see here is that the prophet Daniel was able to predict the future accurately, that he foresaw God's unexpected plan to save his people, and that sometimes God's plan to help us is much bigger than just own own individual problems.

Questions:

  • The blog post you just read was fairly complicated and maybe a bit difficult to digest at times. The content in Daniel 8 is definitely difficult. Read Daniel 8:27. What comfort can you gain from this verse when you compare yourself to Daniel?
  • Read Daniel 8:15-17. What does Gabriel say this vision is about?
  • The beasts in this chapter are interesting. Look at Daniel 8:20-21. Which kingdoms does Gabriel identify with each beast?
  • Compare Daniel 8:1-4 with Daniel 7:5. If this is the Medo-Persian Empire, composed out of two kingdoms teaming up, what might be the significance of the bear standing up on one side, or of the ram having one horn bigger than the other?
  • Compare Daniel 8:22 with Daniel 7:6. What similarities are there between the way the leopard is described and the Goat? Can you think of a historical figure who matches that description?
  • Compare the progression in Daniel 7:1-8. Identify the kingdoms that match each beast, see our previous post for help if you need. Then look at the progression in Daniel 8:1-12. If the Leopard and the Goat represent the kingdom of Greece, does the Horn in Daniel 8 come from the Greek Kingdom, or from the Kingdom that comes after the Greek Kingdom? Note carefully the similarities and differences between chapter 7 and 8.
  • Read Daniel 8:1, Daniel 9:1, and Daniel 5. What significant event took place between Daniel 8 and 9? What part of Daniel's prophecies in chapter 2 and 7 did this fulfill?
  • Read Daniel 9:1-19. Why does Daniel pray this prayer (keep in mind things that have come before), and what are his main concerns that he prays about?
  • Read Gabriel's response to Daniel's prayer in Daniel 9:24-27. What or who is the ultimate solution to the problems Daniel has seen in his visions? How might this solution be related to what Daniel saw in chapter 7:13-14?

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