The books of Daniel and the Revelation were written more than two millennia go. What relevance could such ancient writings possibly hold for us in our day?
The answer depends on one’s view of the Bible as a whole. If the Bible is considered merely a collection of idle myths and legends of deluded minds of the past, it might seem absurd even to suggest that the two books of Daniel and Revelation bear any significance whatsoever.
Others, who believe in Divine inspiration, consider much, if not all of the Bible to be inspired by God who truly exists. But they hesitate when it comes to substantiating the authenticity of Daniel and Revelation, feeling that the many symbols and metaphors contained therein are too mysterious and mystical to have any practical meaning; and nobody can really comprehend, much less explain them in clear, definite terminology.
As the author of this verse-by-verse commentary, I believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and have made the study of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation a special, personal study project for the past forty years. I am convinced that the seeming mysteries of the symbols and figures in these books are readily explainable by the Bible itself, even within the books themselves. Furthermore, I have found them to be full of meaning, especially for the very church, age and time in which we live.
This should be no surprise. Surely, God did not inspire Daniel and John to write these special messages to confuse and mystify, but to edify and instruct and especially to prepare His people to face the events that will transpire during the final moments of earth’s history. Therefore, we can assume they were written so we can understand them!
Those who ignore them, or refuse to devote the necessary time and effort in their study (and it requires a lot of study!), actually cheat themselves out of a very special blessing (see Revelation 1:3) God has in store, for they are guaranteed to engender a sense of confidence and hope for the future, unmatched by anything else.
But before beginning this exploration into these two marvelous books of the Bible, let’s consider some simple, common-sense principles of interpretation that I have tried to follow:
(1) Pray that the same God, who through the Holy Spirit inspired Daniel and John to write these messages, will inspire you to understand their meaning. This is basic to any study of the Bible, and especially to Daniel and the Revelation. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, it is very easy to be led off into dead end roads that lead nowhere.
(2) Although this may sound simple, it is probably one of the most difficult principles to employ: relegate preconceived opinion to the trash heap. In other words, if your opinion fails to measure up to what God actually says, abandon it. I’ve had to do that many times.
(3) Take care not to take anything out of context. Remember: “text without context is pretext.” While this principle is important in Daniel, it is especially important in Revelation. Although this principle might be viewed with some skepticism, I have discovered that all the chapters and verses of Daniel and Revelation (especially Revelation) are contextual with the preceding. Follow me through in this study and I think you will agree.
(4) As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I have found the writings of Ellen G. White enormously helpful. But I caution those of like faith to give the Bible its rightful priority and then look for confirmation in her writings (commonly referred to as the “Spirit of Prophecy”). Confusion is sure to follow if her writings are elevated above those of the Bible.
(5) You will note in my bibliographies, that I often refer to the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary which I highly respect. Never-the-less, the authors of the Commentary have no more claim to inspiration than you or I. Therefore, when conflict arises, we must opt for the source that is truly inspired: the Bible itself, and, secondarily, the Spirit of Prophecy in the writings of Ellen G. White.
(6) Use the Concordance freely including Strong’s, Young’s, various Lexicons, etc. Look up the original words, meanings, how they were used in the prophecy itself or in other scriptures. Other sources such as the internet contribute many interesting things that can add to the quality of your study.
(7) When it comes to the study of Revelation, remember that it is the complement of Daniel. Therefore, look for parallels; you will find lots of them. Both are apocalyptic prophecies that cover much of the same material, with John’s vision filling out many details missing in Daniel’s.
(8) All the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation build on themselves. Sequences are frequently repeated and with each repetition more details are revealed that are not depicted in the previous scenario.
(9) Remember, assertion is not proof. All assertions must be accompanied by Biblical evidence to support the assertion. No building is sound without a solid foundation.
(10) While Revelation is the complement of Daniel, there are distinct differences. While the book of Daniel was written at successive periods in the life of Daniel, the entire vision of the Revelation was given to John in only one day, the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), when he was very old. But Daniel was only in his twenties at first, with the final revelation coming to him when he was in his eighties. Never-the-less they were all closely interconnected and related like the exquisite mechanism of a fine watch. If one part is left out or misplaced, the whole picture is flawed.
(11) Especially in the book of Revelation, most commentators tend to over spiritualize the symbols, making them mystical and unintelligible. But, like Daniel, we can safely assume it was intended to be practical and edifying. Therefore, it is important to apply a definite, or literal meaning when possible. For example, allow the “trees” in Revelation 8:7 to be “trees” rather than symbolic of something else. In contrast, the “great red dragon” of Revelation 12:3 is obviously symbolic. But we don’t have to look far to find the definite meaning which is supplied in verse 9.
(12) While there are probably more principles we could discuss, just remember the ultimate test of authenticity alluded to in Isaiah 8:20: “To the Law and to the Testimony” ―in other words, let the Bible, including Daniel and the Revelation, exposit itself.
It is my prayer that anybody who takes the time to study this material will be blessed even if we fail to agree completely. After all, the study of prophecy is inexhaustible, and nobody can claim they know it all! So, do not hesitate of check me out. While the bibliographies of each chapter are designed for just that purpose, you may have other materials I am not aware of. I solicit any insight or inputs you care to offer.
Be alert to changes. My writings are not a substitute for the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy. Rather, they are intended to be a dynamic exploration into the words of prophecy given by God for the benefit of His people. Hopefully it will be a spark to ignite the true spirit of investigation of what God has said.
In closing, consider these words: “The solemn messages that have been given in their order in the Revelation are to occupy the first place in the minds of God’s people. Nothing else is to be allowed to engross our attention.” (Testimonies to the Church by Ellen G. White, Vol. 8, page 302)
(Note: for those unfamiliar with the writings of Ellen G. White, her writings are considered by many to be inspired by God and, therefore, commonly referred to as the “Spirt of Prophecy.” They are the result of many visions throughout her life. While I have quoted her quite extensively, my conclusions about the interpretations of the prophecies are derived directly from the Bible, and her writings are used as confirmation. She never claimed to put her writings above the Bible.)
God bless you all!
Robert Wood, M.D.