Christ, the Meaning of All Scripture, Life and History
Chapter 9—The Restoration of the Gospel*
All history bears the marks of Christ. The events of the Old Testament, with their recurring pattern of captivity and restoration, point to that ultimate act of judgment and deliverance in the death and resurrection of Christ. Salvation history reaches its end (telos) in the Christ event. It is concentrated in Jesus Christ. The whole stream of Old Testament events—the Creation, the Flood, the Exodus, the Babylonian exile and deliverance—is gathered up and recapitulated in Him who is the Lord of history.
Not only does history reach its end in Jesus Christ, but it also finds its new beginning in Him. The Lamb that dies and lives again takes the scroll of human destiny (Rev. 5:1-6). All history between the resurrection and the consummation is in the hands of Christ and bears the marks of Christ. That is the testimony of the book of Revelation. In spite of himself, even the antichrist bears witness to Christ. In that he apes Christ (Rev. 13:1-10), he bears witness to Christ.
There could not even be an antichrist apart from Christ.1
Those who are baptized by the Spirit into the holy history of Christ bear the marks of Christ. In their finite history, they share in His sufferings. The book of Revelation depicts them being condemned and treated like their Master. They are led to victory by the strange way of apparent defeat.
The gospel also bears the marks of Him who was the Word made flesh. The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are slain "in the street of the great city... where also their Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11:8). This entire chapter bears a remarkable analogy to the death and resurrection of Christ. The gospel, like those who bear it, is trodden on, cast out and put to death. But that cannot be the end of the drama. Because Christ is risen, the power of His resurrection works in history. The gospel is therefore resurrected. The triumph of the truth is like the appearing of the sun at noonday, and the whole earth is lightened with the glory of God (Rev. 18:1).
In our last chapter we saw how the early church recapitulated the fall of Eve (2 Cor. 11:2-4) and the fall of old Israel. The apostolic age was followed by a new Babylonian captivity (Rev. 11:2, 3). But the Christian age not only recapitulates the great captivities of the Old Testament. It also recapitulates Israel's coming out of Egypt and Babylon. Revelation 7, for instance, reflects the Exodus. As the Passover blood sheltered the tribes of Israel, so "the seal of the living God" will protect the new Israel from the coming wrath. Revelation 18:1-4, with its cry, "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! . . . Come out [exodus] of her, My people," alludes to both the Exodus and the postexilic restoration. The book of Revelation shows us that Christian history not only bears the marks of the cross, but the marks of the resurrection. Just as the events of Old Testament history point forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, so the events of the Christian age point back to it.
If the apostolic gospel is to be resurrected, this dispensation will not close with less manifestation of the power of the gospel than marked its opening. Accompanied by the effusion of God's Spirit, likened to the thunderous vernal rains, the everlasting gospel will lighten the earth with the glory of God and prepare the church for the coming of the Son of Man (Rev. 14:6; 18:1; Isa. 60:1-3; Joel 2:23-28).
Daniel's Prophecy of Restoring the Sanctuary
We believe that the great Christian captivity and restoration are depicted in Daniel's prophecy about the pollution and restoration of the sanctuary.
It magnified itself [cf. 2 Thess. 2:4], even up to the Prince of the host; and the continual burnt offering was taken away from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was overthrown. And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt offering through transgression; and truth was cast down to the ground, and the horn acted and prospered. Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to the one that spoke, "For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate [cf. Matt. 24:15], and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled under foot?" And he said to him, "For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state. "—Dan. 8:11-14, RSV.
The Christian church will lose much if she abandons this great prophecy to those who indulge in esoteric prophetic interpretations. Keen scholars have shown that this passage represents the high point of the symbolism in the book of Daniel. Christ even refers to this passage in His Olivet discourse and exhorts us to study it (Matt. 24:15).
Daniel's prophecy about the pollution of the sanctuary and its reconsecration is the heart of covenantal history. Let us first consider the historical context. The Babylonians had overrun Judea and carried the chosen people into exile. Daniel was one of those captives. In his homeland the sanctuary, the very center of the religious cultus, lay in ruins. Yet Daniel believed that this judgment of God was not the final end. He clung to Jeremiah's promise that God would restore the desolate places (Jer. 33:10-12). Daniel's prophecy of the restored sanctuary parallels Isaiah's prophecy of the new exodus (Isa. 40-45), Ezekiel's prophecy of the new temple (Ezek. 40-48) and Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant (Jer.31).
But this drama of the Babylonian exile and restoration is only a piece from the fabric of salvation history. The Babylonian captivity replays the first captivity in Eden. Daniel 8:11-14 expresses the truth of the whole drama of salvation history from Eden lost to Eden restored. When we look at the fall of Adam, we are looking at the first captivity of the covenant people to the real king of Babylon. This was indeed a casting down and pollution of the sanctuary. Genesis 3:15 represents the first promise that the captives would be delivered, holiness would be vindicated and the true worship of God would be restored.
We see the same pattern of desolation and deliverance in the epic of the Flood. We see it again in Israel's bondage to Pharaoh and her exodus from Egypt. And yet again we see this pattern of death and resurrection in the history of the Babylonian exile. The desolating armies of Nebuchadnezzar were instruments of God's judgment. Zion was bereft of her children; yet God promised through the prophet, "They will return from the land of the enemy" (Jer. 31:16). (Who could not see in such language a picture of the resurrection?) Jerusalem lay in ruins; but Isaiah declared, "Let it be rebuilt" (Isa. 44:28). The people of God were put away like a deserted wife; but God pledged to bring them back (Hosea 2:14-23).
Many commentators have seen in Daniel's prophecy of the profanation and vindication of the sanctuary a picture of events in the time of the Maccabees about 170 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king, subjected the Jewish people to a period of cruel persecution. The fanatical Syrian ruler tried to destroy Judaism. He desecrated the temple by slaying a pig on the altar and suspended the daily services. After heroic Jewish resistance, this desolator was driven off and came to a sudden end. Amid great rejoicing, the Jews rededicated the sanctuary in what became known as the Feast of Dedication—a feast still observed at the time of Christ. Commentators are correct in seeing a correspondence between Daniel 8 and these events. But they are wrong when they suggest that Antiochus exhausts the symbolism of "the appalling desolator."
Surely it ought to be clear that Daniel, as an apocalyptic book, focuses on an eschatological event. True, local events within Palestine may be within range of his vision. But like the Old Testament prophets, he provides a typological and eschatological interpretation of history. We could hardly fail to see that Daniel is writing of the end of the age and the coming of God's eternal kingdom.
The stream of history, with its recurring pattern of desolation and deliverance, reaches its end or goal in Jesus Christ. In Him all salvation history is gathered up and concentrated. He was Adam and Israel and the Temple. In His death the judgment of wrath fell on Adam, the curses of the covenant were borne by Israel, and destruction was visited on the Temple (John 2:19). But in Christ's resurrection God's judgment of pardon restored Adam's lost dominion, brought Israel out of the land of bondage, delivered His elect Servant from Babylon and restored the Temple to its rightful state. That Christ even fulfills the prophecy of the restored sanctuary is clear from a comparison of Daniel 8 and 9. The angel Gabriel explicitly tells Daniel that chapter 9 is an explanation of Daniel 8 (cf. Dan. 8:14-16, 26, 27 with 9:20-23). And the substance of Daniel 9 is the person and work of the Messiah.
"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy."—Dan. 9:24.
There is more to the truth of the vision than manipulating mysterious numbers and computing time. The work of the Messiah is the substance of the prophecy. Daniel 8:14 may be translated, "Then shall holiness be vindicated." This took place in Christ's finished work and His resurrection from the dead. Writing on the meaning of the resurrection, A. M. Hunter says:
We may start by saying that the Resurrection meant the vindication of righteousness. For consider: if the story of Jesus ended at the Cross, it is stark, unmitigated tragedy and, what is more, the proof that there is no spiritual rhyme or reason in the universe. Here (to put it in the lowest terms) was a Man with an unclouded vision of moral truth, a Man who not only utterly trusted God but 'hazarded all at a clap' upon his faith in him. He made the final experiment, experimentum crucis. If that life went out in utter darkness, there is no 'Friend behind phenomena', as he believed, but only, in Hardy's phrase, 'a vast Imbecility'. The New Testament speaks far otherwise. It declares that when Jesus laid down his life on God, Nature echoed and rang to his venture of faith. God raised him from the dead, God vindicated his Son, and in vindicating him, vindicated his righteousness.
But in an even more specific way divine righteousness was vindicated by the Resurrection. In the Bible (the Psalms, II Isa., St Paul etc.) the 'righteousness of God' is another name for the salvation of which God is the author—it expresses the saving purpose of Him whose property it is to 'put things right' for his people. Now the Man who made the experimenturn crucis was one who uniquely embodied that purpose of God in himself. He was the Son of man come, in God's name, to 'seek and to save the lost'. He believed that, if the 'many' were to be 'ransomed', he must lay down his life as the Servant Messiah. So, embodying in himself that purpose and making himself utterly one with sinners, Jesus went down to death. Was he deluded? On the third day, says the tradition in its oldest form (I Cor. 15.4), God raised Jesus—and all that he represented—from the grave. The Resurrection is the making manifest by miracle of the victory of God's saving purpose which took Jesus to the Cross.2
Treading Down the Gospel
Jesus, Paul and John did not consider that Antiochus Epiphanes exhausted the symbolism of the abomination that causes desolation. They saw this desolator as a force to be reckoned with in the Christian dispensation (Matt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:3-11; Rev. 13:5-7). Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus are merely his historical precursors. After being defeated by the resurrection of Christ, the enemy turned the weapons of his warfare against the Christian church and the holy gospel (Rev. 12:10-17). There came a falling away, and the light of the apostolic gospel was eclipsed. As Daniel says:
It took away the daily sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was brought low.—Dan. 8:11.
[They] will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.
The words translated "daily sacrifice" are from the Hebrew word tamid, which means "continual." It refers to the daily or continual temple services which, according to the writer of Hebrews, were a parable of the gospel of Christ.
The true daily is the "everlasting gospel." This is also intimated in Matthew 24:14, 15, where the gospel and the abomination that causes desolation are placed in the context of two opposing entities. The desolator supplants the gospel with the false gospel.
The question of Daniel 8:13, "How long [shall this desolating work continue]?" is a plea often echoed in Scripture. It is a plea for judgment and divine intervention. We can understand the question to mean, How long will the gospel be trodden under the unholy feet of antichrist? The answer, "Then shall the sanctuary be restored to its rightful state" (RSV), means that the apostolic gospel will indeed be restored again.
The restoration at the end of the Babylonian exile took place in several distinct stages—stages that may be identified with the successive decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. We suggest that this furnishes us with an analogy of the gospel's restoration since there has also been a Babylonian captivity in the Christian age. A great resurrection of the gospel took place in the Reformation. But when the church of the Reformation declared itself to be the ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, it thereby confessed that the restoration of the gospel was not completed but should be carried forward to completion.
The apostles preached Christ from the background of the Old Testament. It is this Old Testament background which provides the historical, legal and eschatological framework for the gospel. If the gospel is to be restored to its rightful state, that framework must be restored. In the next three chapters, therefore, we shall discuss the implications of that threefold framework.
Finally, the prophecy of the restored sanctuary will reach its complete fulfillment in that consummation of salvation history described in Revelation 21 and 22:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. "—Rev.21:3.
They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.—Rev.22:4.
*Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
1 Marxism has borrowed the thought forms of Christianity, even its eschatology, and attached its own philosophy to it. Marx had a background in Judaism and Protestantism. Error cannot live unless it attaches itself to the cart of truth and draws its life from the truth. For further reading on this point, see Hendrikus Berkhof, Christ the Meaning of History.
2 A. M. Hunter, Introducing New Testament Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), pp.58-9.