12:1–13 Chapter 12 details the much anticipated “time of the end” (see 8:17). There will be an increase in lawlessness and persecution for the Jews during the reign of Antiochus, but those whose names are found in the book will be delivered. Chapter 12 also contains a message of resurrection for those who will die during the persecution.
The angel instructs Daniel to seal up the vision until the time of the end, until it is relevant for those who will have to undergo the tyranny and maltreatment described in the book. This chapter—and the book—conclude with a note of hope for Daniel, the man who has faithfully represented his God through exile and life in a foreign land.
the Servant Song
12:2–3 In Hebrew, significant allusions to the Servant Song in Isa 52:13–53:12 are evident. These linguistic links reflect a conscious understanding of Isa 53 as a text about resurrection. Just as the Suffering Servant figure is resurrected and restored to a relationship with God, His people also will be resurrected and restored to a relationship with Him. The allusions serve to connect God’s people in Dan 12:2–3 with the Suffering Servant, so that God’s servant—Israel (the “people” in v. 1)—is resurrected. The concept of judgment also is implicit here, with some receiving eternal life and others eternal contempt. In Daniel, the servant who is resurrected represents a group of people (“the many”), whereas in Isa 53:10–11 the Resurrected Servant is an individual. In OT theology, the two are closely identified.
the archangel Michael
In chapter 12, the archangel Michael is mentioned as the great prince who protects God’s people (12:1). There is an additional scene portraying two others standing on both sides of the river (12:5). One initiates a conversation with the other, standing above the water and dressed in linen (12:6–7). Daniel joins the conversation as he overhears the statement, “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” (12:7). Then another dialogue (12:8–9) continues out of the first, this time between one being standing on the shore and one standing above the water (12:5–7).
the world of/within the text
From the perspective of the world of/within the text, the multitude of celestial figures and multiplicity of voices speaking in both dialogue and monologue (10:2–11) exemplify the highly sophisticated structure of this vision report. Daniel 10:1 offers an interpretive link: “The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.” In this vision, there is an attempt to present its meaning—the true message concerning the great war (10:1b)—in conversation with the various figures who speak with Daniel in the course of his vision (for example, 10:2–21; 12:5–9). The meaning of the vision is multilayered and quite complex; as in Daniel 3, it takes a multivocal approach to accommodate the many perspectives on its explanation and reception.
the world in front of the text
Looking at the world in front of the text, readers can see that chapters 10–12 contain the vision of a heavenly conflict. On the one hand, the cosmic conflicts and battles with the king of Persia and then with the king of Greece represent the spiritual evils that support the human empires oppressing God’s people. God and his powerful angels—especially Michael, a powerful spiritual being (11:1)—will fight for God’s people and will bring about an eternal victory. Yet this will only be realized in the distant future, at the specific time(s) of deliverance. The overarching message is that judgment is certain for those who resist God and oppress his people. The equally certain truth is that God’s people, downtrodden in the present, will experience final deliverance and new life in the fullest sense (12:1–3). The sequence of events in chapter 11 presents a sharp contrast between the kingdom and kingship of the earthly sovereigns and those of the Sovereign of sovereigns (11:36–45).
put our world in conversation with the world of the text, particularly from Daniel’s perspective, when we are drawn into the world of his inner life. In this last vision, he sees, hears, engages in conversation, is frightened, loses his strength, and is also touched, strengthened, and empowered by angels. He admits that the sequence of end-time events is
beyond his understanding
but still he seeks to understand and initiate the inquiry of “how long” (12:6; compare Isa 6:11; 21:11; Pss 74:10; 82:2), only to be instructed to “roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end” (12:4, 9). Daniel is given a reward and inheritance, along with those who persevere (12:12), but is reminded to go on with the ordinary responsibilities of life (12:13). As we relate to Daniel in his visionary, fearful experience, we cannot help but reflect deeply and ask ourselves:
Is it enough for us to go on with our ordinary life and persevere till the end, not knowing “how long”?
After an emotionally explosive and exotic visionary experience, 12:13 presents a calm, serene, but assuring hope: “As for you, [Brother John/Sister Mary], go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance” (my translation).
the four visions
Approaching the four visions with the three worlds of the text in mind helps us create a bridge between the sixth-century exilic community, with its sufferings and expectation of a glorious future, and our own lives as we turn to the same text for guidance. As we read the four vision reports (chs. 7–12) after the six court tales (chs. 1–6), we can see the text transitioning from one section to the next in several areas: (1) from earthly to heavenly realms; (2) from suffering under hostile foreign rules to defeats and victories of a cosmic nature that involve heavenly intervention; (3) from the sovereignty of God exhibited through earthly events intermingled with kings and empires to the focus on the supreme sovereign of the universe; and (4) most importantly, from the affirmation of God’s control over all earthly and heavenly decrees to the certainty of the truth of the future events. Using a variety of literary devices, the twelve chapters of the book of Daniel paint a complex portrait of God as the supreme sovereign. He is still in control over human evil and over conflicts on the cosmic level, even though things might look bleak from our perspective.
Understanding the Apocalyptic Timetables
Daniel is the only apocalyptic book that provides such specific chronologies of end-time events—particularly in chapters 8 and 11. The key to understanding these timetables is to consider their function within their immediate and broader textual contexts. For Daniel’s original audience, the timetables functioned not so much to provide theoretical information, but rather to console and encourage them.24 In 12:11–12, the timetables are intended to provide the strength to persevere till the end
As we can see from their context, the timetables provide the captive community comfort, encouragement, and strength to persevere as they anticipate God’s intervention while facing an uncertain future. As we connect our world today with the world of the text, we see that we can boldly approach God in whatever context we find ourselves in. We may not receive a concrete answer to our question, “How much longer?” But we will be comforted, encouraged, and strengthened.
God alone knows-and that seems to be the point. God knows that there is an end that he has determined, but we cannot figure it out because we are not supposed to. Leave it to God.-Temper Longman III
Walking down the path of a three-world approach, we looked at two key factors that are important in understanding Daniel’s visions and connecting them to our own lives. The first is the use of first-person perspective, which invites all readers to experience the visions along with Daniel. Second, we have unpacked the visions’ significance for the original readers. Even with the historical information available to us, there are still areas of profound mystery for us. However, time and again, the original audience was assured of the certainty of the events yet to come.
While in chapters 1–6, the sovereignty of God is firmly established as the central theme, the mystery of the end-time events overwhelms Daniel (7:28; 10:8–21). The two portions of the book—the court tales in chapters 1–6 and visions in chapters 7–12—blend together, underscoring the core message of the book: that those who believe may glimpse the mystery of the sovereign God.