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Daniel 8: False Messiahs

Daniel 8: False Messiahs

John MacArthur has three sermons for the text of Daniel 8, “False Messiahs.” Here are part 1, part 2, and part 3.

A basic outline for this chapter is: the big horn, the little horn, and the final horn. The first two are types of antichrist, historical figures now long past but future to Daniel, who would show some of the attributes of the final antichrist, as precursors to the future wicked one. The big horn is Alexander the Great, and shows antichrist’s power; the little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, and shows antichrist’s character.

In the New Testament, John writes of the antichrist yet to come, and thus points back to Daniel’s prophecy. Paul also teaches about the antichrist, in his writings to the Thessalonians about the coming lawless one. Jesus also tells about this figure, in the Olivet Discourse. The source of all New Testament material about the antichrist is Daniel’s prophecy, which describes this figure in great detail, and in chapter 8 gives us two precursors as examples.

Daniel has a threefold purpose: to the Jews of his day, to prepare them for coming persecution; also, to warn the Jews of his day to not be confused by the trend of history — the fact that the Gentiles are going to rule the world from this point forward. Thirdly, Daniel “always comes to the Kingdom,” to let us know that, no matter how bad things get, God’s Kingdom will prevail.

Now to the text, and here we must remember that Daniel is writing this before it happens, during the time of the Babylonian empire. The ram with two horns represents the Medo-Persian kingdom. Interestingly, history tells us that the Medo-Persian empire actually used the symbol of a ram.

MacArthur: “Ammianus Marcellinus who is a fourth century historian, states this: “On all the rulers of Persia or the Medo-Persian Empire…they bore a ram, or the head of a ram, on some part of their garments or some part of their armor. Especially when they went to battle.” Marcellinus says that, “When a Persian general or a Persian monarch stepped in front of his troops for a battle, he represented a ram somewhere on his attire.” In the signs of the Zodiac, which come, of course, from the occult, the sign of the Ram, Aries, has always been connected with Persia…Other historians tell us that the guardian spirit of the Persian kingdom appeared under the form of a ram with clean feet and sharp hooves. The ram, then, in ancient times, symbolized Persia, the Persian Empire.”

The second horn, which comes up after the first horn and is taller, represents the power of the Persians finally taking supremacy over the Medes, in the person of Cyrus. Cyrus became a very powerful ruler, a tyrannical dictator, who “became great” as verse 4 describes. MacArthur:

“When Cyrus set up the Medo-Persian Empire, he was a absolute tyrant…an absolute tyrant. Tyrannical dictatorship. So the rapid progress of Cyrus in just ten years, from 549 to 539, he conquered the world. And it is suggested by this ram in front of Daniel in his vision. And, of course, in the process, at the end of verse 4, it says, “He became great.” A better way to translate that Hebrew phrase is he magnified himself. He magnified himself. Cyrus was characterized by two things: self-will, he did what he wanted; and pride.”



Verse 5 describes a goat (some translations, “hegoat”) with a notable horn between his eyes. Daniel 8, verses 20 and 21 give us the interpretation of both the ram and the goat — the goat is the Greek empire, with Alexander the Great (the first king) as the notable horn. Isaiah 14:9 also references hegoats, as an expression referring to leaders or chiefs. The goat comes from the west, at incredible speed so that it covers the face of the earth and never touches the ground, showing the incredible speed at which the Greek Empire, under Alexander the Great, conquered a vast amount of territory. Daniel 7, the previous chapter, describes the Greek empire as a winged leopard, also noting the great speed and agility.

As Daniel 8:8 describes, “the hegoat grew very great, and when he was strong, the great horn was broken.” The text goes on to describe the kingdom being divided into four parts. The working out of this prophecy is also interesting. Alexander the Great was at his high point when he suddenly died, defeated by his own sinfulness. Then, the kingdom divided into four parts did not happen immediately, but was the end result after 22 years. As MacArthur explains:

“In Alexander’s place came up four new leaders. That’s what the Bible says will happen. Couple hundred years before it happened. And that’s exactly what happened. When Alexander died, his empire was divided among four generals. Remember? Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. And what does it say? “Toward the four winds.” Cassander took the west. That was Macedonia and Greece. Lysimachus took the north, Thrace, Bithynia, and Asia Minor. Seleucus too the east, Syria, Babylonia and east. And Ptolemy took the south, Egypt, Israel, Arabia. You wanna know what fascinates me? You say, “Well, it just all fell into place, ’cause all he had was four generals.” It took 22 years…22 years of the most incredible intrigues and the most unbelievable historical events until those things were divided into four. Twenty-two years after Alexander died, they finally got those four divisions, and those were 22 years of subterfuge and infighting among all the generals of Alexander that finally ended up with four. And there was a fifth who hung onto the last, named Antigonus. But at the very last, he was defeated and shoved out, and there were four.”

MacArthur also shares a great poem, contrasting Alexander the Great and Jesus, from Charles Ross Weede:

“Jesus and Alexander died at 33. One lived and died for self; one died for you and me. The Greek died on a throne; the Jew died on a cross. One’s life a triumph seemed; the other but a loss. One led vast armies forth; the other walked alone. One shed a whole world’s blood; the other gave His own. One won the world in life and lost it all in death; the other lost His life to win the whole world’s faith. Jesus and Alexander died at 33. One died in Babylon, and on at Calgary. One gained all for self; and one Himself He gave. One conquered every tongue; the other every grave. The one made himself God; the other made Himself less. The one lived but to blast; the other but to bless. When died the Greek, forever fell his throne of swords; but Jesus died to live forever Lord of Lords. Jesus and Alexander died at 33. The Greek made all men slaves; the Jew made all men free. One built a throne on blood; the other built on love. The one was born of earth; the other from above. One won all this earth, to lose all earth and heaven. The other gave up all, that all to Him be given…And then this final statement…The Greek forever died; the Jew forever lives. Jesus and Alexander died at 33.”

Now to the little horn: Antiochus Epiphanes, who was the eighth ruler of the Seleucid dynasty, who ruled from 175 to 164 B.C. — another 150 years past Alexander the Great, hundreds of years after Daniel’s life. Daniel 8 tells us that this horn rises from littleness — Antiochus was a usurper with no right to the throne. The rightful heir was a hostage, and Antiochus by flattery took the position, and called himself Epiphanes — the people called him Epimanes (the maniac). The Seleucids controlled the east part of the original Greek Empire, and the Ptolemys controlled the south (Egypt), with Israel as a buffer area, right in the middle of the conflict between the two powers.

Horns on animals in scripture are always the symbol of power and dominion. The little horn of chapter 8 is different from the little horn of chapter 7; both describe a horn that starts out small, yet referring to two different people. The little horn in chapter 7 comes from the Roman Empire, whereas the one in chapter 8 comes from the Greek Empire. The chapter 7 little horn is the antichrist, and the chapter 8 little horn prefigures the antichrist and, as commentators generally agree, is Antiochus. In the third sermon, MacArthur described the specific atrocities committed by Antiochus against the people of Israel.

Of particular interest, note the specific dates and numbers given in this prophecy. The Bible tells us that the antichrist will only last 1250 days (3 1/2 years), and in Matthew 24 Jesus tells us that if it lasted any longer, on one would be saved — antichrist’s time is limited. Antichrist will be far worse than Antiochus, who was given a longer period of time: 2300 days (verse 14). Note this from MacArthur, how this prophecy actually played out:



Now, people, when the Bible starts getting that specific, that is really amazing. The Bible says there’ll be 2300 days in which Antiochus will oppress the Jews. Historical data is rather unavailable at this point. We can’t really tell the precise point at which this horrible holocaust began. But, now listen, and this is what’s fascinating. We do know when the closing of the 2300 days came, because it says the closing will be the sanctuary cleansed. On December 25th, 165 BC, under the leadership of one of the Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus, the great leader of that family who led the revolution against Antiochus, came in and cleansed the temple. December 25th, 165 BC.

So you start with December 25th, 165 BC, and go backwards how many days? Twenty three hundred days, and you figure back. You wind up at September 6th, 171 BC. September 6th, 171 BC. That, then, would be the date when some event occurred that was sufficient enough to mark the beginning of Antiochus’ anti-Jewish atrocities. Now, September 6th, 171, we don’t have any record of what happened on that day. But I’ll tell you one thing, something did happen, because God knows his numbers. And just to confirm that, listen to this. Though the nature of the event is not known, history is very clear about this. The Jewish atrocities began in 171 BC. That’s very clear from history…Until 171, say the historians, there was peace between Antiochus and the Jews. The pious high priest, a good man by the name of Onias III, was removed from office. Jason…who bribed Antiochus for the position, was put in the place of the true high priest. The anger of the Jews became stirred. That is the righteous Jews, and though the revolution didn’t break out for a while, the thing began to fester that eventually led to that revolution.

And then 2300 days from September 6th, the temple was cleansed as the Maccabeans won their battle against Antiochus. Now, you get a little idea of the history of this individual by looking at verses 9 to 14. … Antiochus was such a maniac that he imprinted on the coins…and by the way, you might be interested to know we found 126 coins. I say “we,” speaking of archeologists. Have found 126 coins with this on them: “Theos Antiochus Theos Epiphenes,” which means Antiochus, God manifest. What a picture of antichrist who comes as the false god.




God’s word never ceases to amaze — even to the literal fulfillment of prophecies, and prophecies which involve numbers. We can look at the near-term prophecies of Daniel and realize they were right, and thus can trust that the future prophecy will also be fulfilled. So much for all those skeptics who say that “all numbers in Revelation are used symbolically.” Nonsense. As I’ve learned through continual study, the book of Revelation is a very Jewish book, with many references to prophecies in Daniel, also things in Ezekiel and Zechariah. This study of Daniel helps to connect the dots and fill in the pieces, as one major part of God’s progressive revelation, which began in the Old Testament

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