"THE WISE SHALL UNDERSTAND." HAVE THESE PROPHECIES A FUTURE APPLICATION
We have reserved verses 9 and 10 until now, in order that we might deal with all the time measures together. So we come finally to the answer given to Daniel's question (#Da 12:8), "What shall be the end of these things?" But it was not for Daniel to know this; for the reply was: "Go thy way, Daniel, for the words are closed and sealed up till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand."
Here is one of those cases spoken of by Peter, where the prophet searched and enquired diligently what the Spirit of Christ did signify; and where it was not given him to know the things which were testified beforehand. For while Daniel was made to understand much of what was to transpire during the second period of Jewish history, there were matters connected with the final stage thereof which were to be sealed up until the time should be fulfilled, when Christ Himself should reveal them and then not to all, but only to "the wise."
In this view of the passage we can clearly see a wonderful fulfilment of it in the things which took place in the days of Christ, as recorded in the Gospels. For those inspired narratives present vividly the contrast between what our Lord repeatedly called a "wicked" generation, and the few who followed Him, and were made "wise" through His doctrine. This contrast appears clearly in those well known words recorded by Matthew: "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes" (#Mt 11:25). Here the "babes" are they who were truly "wise;" and of them it is recorded that, after His resurrection, He "opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures" (#Lu 24:45). Moreover, it was to them that He gave those special revelations concerning the then approaching destruction of Jerusalem, which form the second part of our present study, and which throw light on the prophecies of the Book of Daniel.
Here we have, therefore, a conspicuous and inspired record of a particular era, the days of Christ, when it was given to the spiritually "wise" to "understand" these very matters concerning which Daniel inquired so eagerly; and this too was "the time of the end" of that very portion of Jewish history to which the prophecy relates. And not only so, but, at that very same time, there was another company expressly called by Christ Himself the "wicked" (#Mt 12:45, &c.) who continued to "do wickedly," even to the point of seizing their own Messiah, and with "wicked hands," putting Him to death. How could there be a more striking fulfilment of the words: "the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand"? Those words surely point to something very definite, and very important. It is certain that in such a prophecy the Spirit of God would not waste words by foretelling a matter of course thing, such as that wicked men in general will do wicked deeds in general. No, it was some particular and monumental act of wickedness that was in contemplation, and one, moreover, that would be perpetrated by a generation of men specially characterized by a lack of understanding of what was happening in their days. It was, in fact, the same deed of wickedness that is foretold in Daniel 9:24 as finishing the transgression. The fulfilment of this part of the prophecy calls for just such a deed as was described by Paul when he said of the Jews and their leaders that, "because they knew Him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him" (#Ac 13:27).
The ingenuity of expositors has been greatly taxed in the effort to make these words apply to the closing days of our own age. We are well aware of the natural propensity of the mind to seize upon such passages as this, and to seek a fulfilment in the last days of this present dispensation; yet it seems strange that the plain fulfilment, to which we are here calling attention, should be so generally overlooked. Every expositor of recent times, who has a scheme of interpretation of Daniel's prophecies to advocate, inevitably and blandly cites the words "the wise shall understand" as if they constituted a convincing proof of the correctness of his own scheme. For he takes "the time of the end" to mean the end of our own dispensation (as if it were the only era that had an "end") and then he further takes it for granted that he is one of "the wise" to whom it has been specially given to "understand" these previously hidden things. But we are persuaded that much which passes nowadays as an "understanding" of these matters, is but a misunderstanding after all; and that some who esteem themselves "wise" in regard thereto are quite otherwise.
Many purified and made white. We would also direct attention to the important words, "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried," which stand in apposition to the words, "but the wicked shall do wickedly." It is easy to identify those who, in the last days of Jewish national life, were "purified and made white" through the blood of Christ, and who also were severely "tried" for the faith they professed. And again we say that such words, in such a prophecy, call for a special and definite fulfilment; for it virtually deprives them of all significance to interpret them in a way which would make them apply to any and every period. The fulfilment which these words call for is found in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. There we read of "thousands" who were saved, of "many" of the priests who became obedient to the faith, of "multitudes both of men and women" who turned to the Lord. These were purified and made white; and then they were tried with a "fiery trial"; but to these (for they were the "wise") it was given to "understand" the things which were to befall their city and sanctuary at "the end."
But in contrast with this, history has preserved the most impressive evidence of the fact that none of the wicked (those who rejected Christ and His gospel, and who slew the messengers He sent to them) understood what was coming. On the contrary, up to the very day of the capture of the temple by the Romans, they were deceived by false prophets, and were fatuously looking for a miraculous intervention in their behalf. As to this we have the testimony of a most competent and impartial witness, Josephus, who says:
"A false prophet was the occasion of the destruction of those people, who (the prophet) had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who announced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God" (Wars V. 11, 2 and VI. 5, 2).
But "the wise," those who were enlightened by the word of Christ and by the Spirit of God, did understand the prophecy and did secure their safety thereby; of which we purpose to speak in detail when we come to our Lord's prophecy on Mr. Olivet.
Thus it will be seen that, not only do the terms of this prophecy confine us, in our search for the fulfilment of all its details, to the era of Jewish history anterior to the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans and the scattering of the holy people, but we are enabled, from the Scriptures themselves, and from authentic contemporary records, to find, in the stupendous events of that era, a complete and worthy fulfilment of every detail.
The last word in the prophecy, and in the Book, is a word of personal comfort to Daniel: "But go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."
The "lot" to an Israelite would mean his portion or inheritance. So to Daniel is given the assurance that all these calamities should not abridge his "rest" or his inheritance. Thus he was supported to hear and to record those wonders, by the comfort wherewith he was comforted of God.
Thus closes the Book of "Daniel the Prophet;" but the subject concerning which he prophesied, or rather concerning which a revelation was given him from heaven--the destruction and desolations of Jerusalem under the judgment of God--was taken up by the Lord Jesus Christ, and was made the theme of His own last prophecy. Therefore we may properly regard Daniel's prophecy as the introduction to Christ's Olivet discourse, and the latter as the completion of the prophecy of Daniel.
HAVE THESE PROPHECIES A FUTURE APPLICATION?
In the foregoing pages we have sought to give the true interpretation of the last four chapters of Daniel. In so doing we have endeavoured to show that "the latter days," wherein the last of those prophecies was expressly to be fulfilled, was that final period of Jewish history which stretched from the return from Babylon in the days of Cyrus, to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus; and also to show that "the time of the end" spoken of in Daniel 12:4 was the very last stage of that period, including the days of Christ, and the time of gospel preaching which followed.
But the subject should not be left without some reference to the question whether these prophecies have any application at all to the present dispensation. We are deeply convinced that there is no warrant whatever for breaking off the last parts of these prophecies, and carrying the detached portions across the intervening centuries to the end of this gospel dispensation. This freakish system of interpretation has nothing in the Scripture to support it, so far as we can discover. But is it not a possibility nevertheless that the prophecies, or parts of them at least, may have a secondary and final fulfilment in the last days of our era?
This question cannot be dismissed as unworthy of serious consideration, seeing that many expositors of the highest ability have elaborated systems of interpretation wherein the time measures of Daniel are taken, on the scale of a day to a year, to measure from various epochs in the past to various critical events in this dispensation. Especially have those time measures been used to locate the second coming of Christ, and other events which pertain to the time of the end of this present age. Sometimes the periods are measured on the scale of a lunar year, sometimes on the scale of a solar year, sometimes on the scale of a calendar year (counting 360 days to a year). Mr. H. Grattan Guinness, in his well known books, The Approaching End of the Age, and Light for the Last Days, uses all three scales, and he seems to obtain remarkable results whichever scale he employs. Thus these figures appear to give, in many cases, the measures of time between important historical events of old, and corresponding events in our own era. All this suggests the possibility that the figures given in the 12th chapter of Daniel may, when made to mean years instead of days, be found to measure accurately from some selected starting point to say the rise (or the fall) of the Papacy as a temporal power, or of Mohammedanism, or to the French Revolution, or to the outbreak of the World War, or to the taking of Jerusalem from the Turks. Such studies are not without interest and value; but they do not, in our opinion, supply us with a basis upon which the date of any future event can be predicted; and most emphatically do we declare it as our judgment, that neither these figures nor any others have been given as a means whereby the date of the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ can be calculated. To that judgment we are driven by His own definite statements in His Mount Olivet prophecy, which we are now about to examine. From those statements it will be clearly seen that, while on the one hand the Lord warned His disciples most explicitly concerning the exterminating judgments which were to fall upon the people, the city and the temple in that generation, and while He gave them an unmistakable sign whereby they might be warned of the approach thereof in time to escape, He took the greatest pains on the other hand to impress upon them that His own coming again would be at an unexpected season, and without any premonitory signs whatever.
Furthermore, it is obvious that, in order to measure long time intervals from a starting point in Old Testament days, it is necessary to have a correct chronology; and the practice of all who have made calculations of the sort referred to has been to assume some one or other of the existing chronological systems based upon the canon of Ptolemy, which Anstey has shown to be erroneous, or at least untrustworthy. And in this connection we would say that our confidence in all calculations of the sort referred to is much shaken by the fact that each scheme of interpretation yields equally remarkable results whether one system of chronology be chosen or another, and whether the "year" be taken as containing 365 days, or 360, or 354 (the last being the length of the lunar year). Now, inasmuch as it is manifestly impossible that all the different chronologies based on Ptolemy's canon should be equally correct, or that it is a matter of indifference whether the year, which is the time unit in all these calculations, be of one length, or another, we are unable to find in such systems of interpretation any basis solid enough to support settled conclusions. Therefore, as to the time of any of the as yet unfulfilled prophecies, we have no means for fixing, or even closely approximating, the year in which it will occur; and this statement applies in a special way to the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And finally we would say, after much consideration of the matter, and with the desire (which must be common to all) that we might have a divinely revealed measuring line and a starting point whereby future events could be accurately located on the chart of the years, yet we cannot see sufficient warrant for assuming that the "days" mentioned in these prophecies are really "years." We shall not take the time to examine the reasons usually given in support of that assumption, it being enough to say that we know of no proof that the word "day," in any time measure given in the Bible, means "year;" nor can we conceive of any reason why, if a year were meant, the word "day" should be used instead.
The case of the "seventy weeks" of Daniel 9:24 is not an instance of making the word "day" stand for a year; for the word means a heptad or seven, which might be one of days or years, and which the event proves in this case to be years.