Daniel - Lesson 12

Apocalyptic Literature vs. Prophecy

Daniel and Jeremiah both had messages from God but the way God communicated to each of them was different. The word “apocalypse” comes from the first word in Greek in the book of Revelation which means to reveal or uncover something. Some characteristics of apocalyptic literature are visions, dreams, a binary point of view, highly figurative language and the theme of hope based in confidence in God’s control over people and events that seem chaotic and overwhelming.

Lesson 12
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Apocalyptic Literature vs. Prophecy

I. Genre triggers reading strategy

II. Description of Apocalyptic Literature

III. Dynamics of Communication

IV. Purpose for Prophetic and Apocalyptic

V. Binary Point of View

VI. Highly Figurative Language

  • Join distinguished scholar and professor emeritus Dr. Tremper Longman for a study of the book of Daniel, a fascinating and inspiring part of the Bible. In this class, you'll explore six stories and four apocalyptic visions that all demonstrate God's control and ultimate victory, even in the face of evil and difficulty. Don't miss this opportunity to be encouraged and strengthened in your faith as you study the powerful messages of the book of Daniel with Dr. Longman.

  • Daniel is written in two parts. The first six chapters is history written in the form of a story. Chapters seven through twelve are apocalyptic literature. In the English Bible, it’s with the major prophets. In the Hebrew Bible it’s in the Writings. The Apocalyptic section has similarities to the book of Revelation. One of the main messages in the book of Daniel is that even if you are living in a culture that is toxic to your faith, living by faith can help you not only survive, but thrive.

  • By the time Daniel was written, the nation of the Jewish people was divided into the tribes of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Assyria conquered Israel in 722 BC. Babylon overthrew Assyria in 612 BC then Judah in 605 BC. Daniel. Daniel and others were taken to Babylon and chosen to be trained as royal advisors.   

  • Daniel and his friends were willing to learn the language, literature and divination practices of the Babylonians even though it was potentially toxic to their faith. They temporarily chose to eat vegetables and water rather than the food and wine that the other officials in training were eating. The performed at the top of their class.

  • Nebuchadnezzar summoned the royal magicians and sorcerers and required them to tell him what his dream was and give him an interpretation of the dream. Daniel is able to do this because of the wisdom God gives him.

  • Daniel reveals the dream and the interpretation because God revealed it to him. The parts of the statue represent different worldly kingdoms. The stone that crushes the statue represents God’s rule over the kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar recognizes Yahweh as being powerful.

  • Daniel and his friends were thrown into a fiery furnace as punishment for not worshipping an image of Nebuchadnezzar. God miraculously saved them and Nebuchadnezzar promoted them to positions in the royal court.

  • This is a story of a contest between Daniel and his friends and the Babylonian wise men. A major theme is the pride of Nebuchadnezzar and how that affects the outcome. Some of the story is narrated in by Nebuchadnezzar in the first person. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. The Babylonian wise men don’t give him an interpretation, but Daniel does. Nebuchadnezzar experienced judgment but God restores him.

  • As we read and study the Old Testament, we can gain insights into redemptive history and see examples of how we should live. It can sometimes be a challenge to determine the continuity or discontinuity of a passage. A major theme in Daniel 4 and throughout the Bible is how pride can hinder your relationship with God. 

  • Belshazzar was a ruler in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar died. During a banquet he hosted, he used the goblets from the temple in Jerusalem for his guests to drink out of. In the middle of a banquet, a hand appeared and wrote a message on the wall. Belshazzar called Daniel to interpret the message.

  • When Darius gave Daniel a position of authority in his government, the administrators underneath him were jealous. They devised a plan to trap Daniel and force Darius to execute him. God rescued Daniel and the administrators suffered the fate that they had planned for Daniel. The story shows that in spite of present difficulties, God is in control and it’s important to live a life that is faithful to him.

  • Daniel had a vision of four beasts that were frightening in appearance. An angel explained the significance of the beasts in terms of historical kingdoms but didn’t say specifically which ones.

  • Daniel and Jeremiah both had messages from God but the way God communicated to each of them was different. The word “apocalypse” comes from the first word in Greek in the book of Revelation which means to reveal or uncover something. Some characteristics of apocalyptic literature are visions, dreams, a binary point of view, highly figurative language and the theme of hope based in confidence in God’s control over people and events that seem chaotic and overwhelming.

  • In this lesson, you gain a deeper understanding of the book of Daniel, focusing on its themes, historical context, and preparation for spiritual battles in a challenging cultural environment.
  • You gain a deeper understanding of the Book of Daniel, its historical context, literary features, key themes, and significance within the Old Testament, while focusing on God's warfare against evil.
  • John the Baptist described Jesus coming as a warrior but the ministry of Jesus was different than what he expected. Since we live in phase 4, God gives us the power to fight spiritual battles. The God who led the people of Israel into battle in the Old Testament is the same God described in the New Testament who came as God in human form as Jesus.

  • The vision in Daniel 8 describes animals that represent kingdoms and individuals. While Daniel was seeing the vision, Gabriel came and explained its meaning. Antiochus Epiphanes fits the description of one of the horns in the vision. His persecution of the people of Israel and his desecration of the temple is similar to the way the anti-Christ is described in Revelation.

  • As Daniel is reading Scripture, he comes to the realization that what he is reading in the book of Jeremiah may actually be taking place at the time. His response is to begin by praying. He includes himself in confessing the sins of the people of Israel and appeals for God to rescue them from exile.

  • As Daniel is reading Jeremiah and praying, the angel Gabriel appears to Daniel to explain the vision to him. The numbers in the vision are symbolic but demonstrate that God has a plan and a time frame to accomplish it.

  • The final of Daniel’s four visions described in chapters 10-12. There is an introduction to the vision, description of the vision and instructions to Daniel. The answer to Daniel’s prayer was delayed because of spiritual warfare.

  • This vision covers the events surrounding the Persian and Greek rulers in the 3rd and 4th century BC. They are described in such detail that some people think it was written after they took place, not as a prophecy.

  • The righteous and the wicked have different fates in the after-life. Throughout Scripture there is progress of revelation. God is in control and he will be victorious. The prophecy that God gave Daniel describes events that will happen in the future. Celestial sources give final words to Daniel that are also addressed to readers of the book of Daniel. A theme that is emphasized throughout the book of Daniel is, in spite of present difficulties, God is in control and he will have the final victory.  This is illustrated both in the stories of Daniel and his friends and in the visions of future events that Daniel has.

  • Daniel informs the imagery and message of the book of Revelation. They are the two books of the Bible with primarily apocalyptic themes. Daniel’s encounter with God and angels is similar to what John records in Revelation. Daniel is commanded to seal his prophecy and in Revelation, the seals are opened. The references Revelation to the beasts and three and a half years is also similar to Daniel.

Living in a toxic culture can be dangerous and risky, but when you live by faith, God can give you opportunities to thrive, succeed and be a testimony to God's power and love for people. A primary message of the prophecies of Daniel is that in spite of present difficulties, God is in control and he will have the final victory. God has not provided us with a precise date on the calendar for when that will happen, but he will accomplish his plan on his timetable.

Dr. Tremper Longman III
Daniel ot666-12
Apocalyptic Literature vs. Prophecy
Lesson Transcript

Tremper Longman III [00:00:00] So now that we've taken a look at the first apocalyptic vision, they thought it might be good to now reflect a little bit more with that concrete example in mind what apocalyptic literature is precisely, and do so by comparing it with what we might call classical prophecy. And specifically I'll use Jeremiah as an example. First of all, I want to say that, you know, as I said at the beginning, genre triggers reading, strategy, authors write and certain literary forms in order to send signals to their readers as to how to take their words. I mean, a non-biblical example of that is once upon a time. You know, that's a that's a really explicit, obvious generic symbol that communicates to readers that you're about to encounter something like a fairy tale. So, so but on the other hand, we're at some historical remove from biblical text. And so what we're really doing is we're reading these texts and seeing which texts are like each other, not only within the Bible, but, you know, basically every biblical genre has extra biblical examples. I don't think that God needed to or needed to create whole distinctive genres that are unique to the Bible to communicate his message any more than he needed to create a whole distinct new never before used language, but rather used Hebrew, which is a language like other languages. I mean, some people in history of interpretation have argued that Hebrews, the language that was spoken in the Garden of Eden and will be spoken in heaven, But I don't think that is true. God. Condescend to meet people where they are, speaks the language, uses the imagery and the literary types that they're already familiar with. So what is apocalyptic literature? Well, let me begin by saying, where does this name come from? It comes from the very first Greek word in the Book of Revelation, which begins apocalypse this Yasa Christou. And we translated the revelation of Jesus Christ. And so books like Revelation are books that are commonly described as apocalyptic. And Daniel seven through 12 is the most obvious example of literature that similar to the Book of Revelation, it doesn't tell us, you know, doesn't go on to describe an apocalyptic is like this. We have to then study the text, look at its characteristics and see how it functions. And that helps us describe what apocalyptic literature is. Now, of course, just the English translation, apocalypse uncovering or revelation know, you know, doesn't really help us to describe the distinctive nature of the Book of Revelation, because, you know, in many ways we believe that all of Scripture is revelation of what one sort or another, but what type of revelation, what type of apocalypses are Daniel and Revelation? Well, the first thing that I would point out by way of difference, say, with prophecy is the dynamics of communication. All right. Think of Jeremiah the Prophet. God speaks to Jeremiah. Jeremiah. This is an oracle. You go and tell the people what I am telling you. Profits are like ambassadors or spokespeople for God. They often use what might be called a messenger formula. Thus says the Lord or decree of the Lord before they relate the words of God and the reader should hear the words of the Prophet. And. Receive them as they're intended, which is as the very words of God. Now, that's not the way Daniel works. That's not the way Revelation works. We just saw in Daniel seven how God does not speak to Daniel, and I don't think God ever speaks to Daniel directly. Rather, Daniel has visions. He has dreams that disturb him. And it's not God who comes to interpret it for him, but rather it's. It's an interpreting angel. Interpreting angel who comes. And of course, the angel comes from heaven. Comes from God. So it's God's agent. But. But again, it's interesting that God does not speak directly to Daniel like he speaks to Jeremiah. And the other difference in terms of what I'm calling dynamic communication is there is no commission for Daniel to go out and tell all the people. Tell all the people. Exactly. We'll see a little bit of the opposite in Daniel Chapter 12, where the angels say, SEAL up your prophecy. Prophecy, seal up these words. Now, of course, they're not really sealed up because we're reading the tax, and so did the original audience. But it's kind of like overhearing a conversation rather than having the words explicitly directed to them. Now there's a reason for the difference that's connected to the purpose of prophetic literature compared to the purpose for apocalyptic literature. We talked a little bit about this before when we talked about prophets being like covenant lawyers who are called to speak when the people violate the covenant and God tells them to go out and confront the people with their sin, call on them to repent. And so prophets function when the people of God are wandering away. And that's not. The background for apocalyptic texts like Daniel and Revelation. It is addressed to the faithful people of God, and its purpose is not to call them to repentance. It's actually rather to call them to staying firm and persistent in their faith during times of trouble, where they're going to be tempted to give up hope, to lose confidence, maybe even turn their back on God, because it just seems like the situation is hopeless since evil's apparently in control. And so I would characterize the apocalyptic fear. Purpose. As to bring hope and confidence to the people of God? No. I've read descriptions of apocalyptic literature as being pessimistic literature. Pessimistic literature. And I think it's. Called that by some because of all the warfare and so forth that we are reading in Daniel 7 to 12 or in the Book of Revelation but. To be honest, it kind of depends on which side of the divide you're on. Whether it's pessimistic or optimistic. If you are an evil person oppressing the people of God to whom neither Daniel or Revelation are addressed. But if you would happen to be the person oppressing the people of God, it's pessimistic. It's bad news for you. But if you are an oppressed person of God, it's really, really good news to you. It's there to bring you comfort. Matter of fact, it makes me reflect on how I became a Christian when I was a senior in high school. And it begins with a girlfriend giving me a copy of how Lindsay's well-known book, The Late Great Planet Earth. Okay, So I was going to a youth group and going to church, but was a very liberal church that really made no religious demands on any of us. Matter of fact, I remember when I was became a communicant member of the church when I was 13 or 14, so half a century plus ago, going in for my final interview with the minister and the minister asked me if I had any questions before I'd be confirmed as a member of the church. And I said, Well, you know, I'm to be honest, I'm having a hard time believing the stories that I'm reading in the Gospels that's actually happening. And he looked at me, goes, Yeah, we do, too. That's not an obstacle to you becoming a member of the church. I'm going, okay. But so, you know, back in like 1969, 1970, when this girl gave me a copy of the late great Planet Earth. And by the way, it was during the beginning of the Jesus revolution. I read it. And to be honest, I completely disowned the interpretive method employed by Hal Lindsey in that book. But he got one thing right while focusing in on Daniel Revelation Mark 13 and other passages, and that is Jesus is coming back again and he's going to come to judge evil people and he's going to save his people. And that was something very pivotal that God used to bring me to himself. So my point is that when I read it, I was on the wrong side of the divide where it was pessimistic message. But when I went to the other side, it became a message of hope and comfort, which again differentiates it from classical prophecy. Another thing that's interesting that serves the purpose, I believe, of apocalyptic, being comforting and making things clear is that apocalyptic is pretty binary in its description of people space and time. You know, it's basically there's evil and there's good. There's there are righteous people and they're wicked people, and there's heaven and there's earth and there's now and the future. And so there is this kind of binary description in apocalyptic literature, which clarifies things for us and helps us understand which side we're on. And let's see, finally. And we've seen it in Daniel seven Apocalyptic literature utilizes highly figurative language, highly figurative language. Now, that doesn't mean the prophets don't use metaphors and similes, but there's an intensification and heightening of the use of figurative language. And actually what has struck me recently is that. In my understanding of Genesis 1 to 11 and my understanding of books that anticipate the final intrusion of Christ or a final intrusion of God, let's keep it general. In terms of the Book of Daniel, that'll be made more specific in the Book of Revelation. When I compare Revelation, which is describing the future, we don't know how future or Daniel which is describing the future, this apocalyptic literature, which is another thing that differentiates it from classical prophecy, which typically talks about near term future. It puts the emphasis there because it's trying to call people to repentance or else the near future is going to be dire for them. Not that the prophets message doesn't have second meanings that resonate later in in history or anticipate Christ as it talks about the future. It uses figurative language. It's talking about real things that are going to happen. Now, let me use Daniel, I mean Revelation as an example, and that is as he's talking about the return of Christ, it talks about it in terms of this image of riding a cloud. It talks about it in terms of Jesus writing a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth. Revelation 1911 and following or, you know, Daniel, Chapter seven, the one like the son of man riding a cloud into a battle with the beasts and destroying them. And that to me is an interesting parallel to Genesis 1 to 11, which is talking about the deep, deep past. And as I think I explained before, my understanding of the way Genesis 1 to 11 talks about actual historical events is also by using figurative language, which is often informed by ancient near Eastern depictions of creation. Well, that's kind of a controversial point on Genesis 1 to 11, but the point is that that there's a highly figurative language being used. I think it's because it's talking about far distant events ultimately that are described well, using figurative language. But again, the basic difference is the mode of communication. God speaks to Jeremiah, who speaks to the people of God, who then respond and then God reacts to them as opposed to Daniel or John receiving a vision or a dream that disturbs them. In the case of Daniel. And then Alec interpreter comes and helps them understand the significance of that dream or vision. And then not going out and going into the streets like Jeremiah does to, you know, preach to the public, but rather but rather having a message that is really communicating to God's faithful people to bring them comfort and confidence in a difficult present.