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The Eschatological Nature of the Old Testament

For all the [Old Testament] promises of God find their fulfillment in Him. — 2 Cor. 1:20.

. . .we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled . . . by raising Jesus. Acts 13:32, RSV.

This news is so unspeakably good that it passes all man's capacity to comprehend it. If a man could grasp the excellency of the matter and with a constancy believe the same, he would utterly despise all the power, glory and pleasure that this world pretends to offer. He would be glad and willing to perform any duty and be gratefully ready to face anything. If a man hears this gospel and believes it, he cannot be the same man. For him, old things pass away, and all things become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

Since the glorious fulfillment which took place in Jesus can only be appreciated when we see what the Old Testament had promised, we should take some pains to grasp what is repeatedly called "the hope of Israel."

The Old Testament begins in Paradise — with man in face-to-face communion with God and having access to the tree of life. He is crowned king in Eden and given dominion over the whole created order (Gen. 1 :26-28 Ps. 8:4-8). Then comes the great captivity. Adam loses kingdom, Eden, homeland and this "first dominion" — for himself and the whole human race. Another has become the prince of this world. Man is no longer a king, but a slave; no longer an heir of life, but of death.

The long night of captivity, however, is not one of unrelieved darkness. God gives to Adam, then to the patriarchs, and finally to Israel, the promise of deliverance and restoration. The revelation of God's redemptive purpose does not all dawn at once. It is progressive. At first the promise, though certain, is somewhat vague and obscure. But as God reveals Himself constantly at work for His people (as in the great deliverance from Egypt) and sends prophet after prophet to more specifically reiterate the promise, the hope of Israel begins to take definite shape.

In a word, a day would come when God would finally act and effect His redemptive purpose. The righteous God would intervene, deal with the enemy of His people, and restore them to their destined order. By the time we come to Isaiah, it becomes very clear that restoration envisages more than restoration to temporal peace and prosperity in Palestine. The prophet uses expressions that clearly mean a restoration of Edenic proportions and to Edenic conditions.

The Old Testament therefore looks forward to this day — the day of Yahweh — when God would finally act for the deliverance and restoration of His people. Enemies, oppressions, sin and death would at last be dealt with. "The first dominion" would be restored to "the daughter of Zion." The Old Testament is a journey toward the fulfillment of God's promise. It is forward looking. It is characterized by such expressions as "Behold, the days come . . . " "In that day . . .," "It shall come to pass in the last days . . . "

This means that the Old Testament hope is eschatological — that is to say, it looks to the last days and focuses on God's end-time event. The Old Testament looks for history to arrive at its appointed end — a glorious end when the life of this "age" would give place to life in what later Judaism called "the age to come."

The Book of Daniel

The eschatological hope of the Old Testament finds its most specific expression in the book of Daniel. In fact, Daniel is like the Old Testament in miniature. Written during the seventy years of captivity to Babylon,1 it epitomizes the great captivity which began at the gate of Eden. The Jews had lost homeland and kingdom to the king of Babylon. Their sanctuary, which expressed their mode of worship and was the vehicle of the covenant, lay in ruins. Their children were captives in an enemy land. How much like the Fall all over again!

No tragedy, however bitter, could prevent those Hebrews from dreaming of a better day. God had put a sense of destiny in their hearts that nothing could quench. So they dreamed of restoration to their homeland — a restored kingdom and a king on David's throne, a restored sanctuary, and a restored people. The prophecy of Daniel tells of this restoration. But like the prophecies in Isaiah, Daniel's picture of restoration transcends the little temporal restoration that took place at the end of the Babylonish captivity. That obviously did not fulfill the prophecies of restoration in Isaiah.2 Even more obviously do the prophecies of Daniel carry us forward to that great final, eschatological restoration.

There are four prophetic outlines in Daniel, which all focus on the great deliverance through God's end-time action.

1. In Daniel 2 the hope of the establishment of the Kingdom of God is clearly enunciated. This hope of the coming kingdom is a concept which develops and gradually takes shape in Old Testament history, but it reaches its most mature expression in the book of Daniel.

    And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. — Dan 2:44, 45.
2. In Daniel 7 the prophet sees how the King is restored through the action of God's judgment:

    I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit. . . . the judgment was set. . . . judgment was given to [rendered in favor of] the saints of the most High. . . . And the kingdom and dominion . . . shall be given to . . . the saints of the most High. . . — Dan. 7:9,10, 22, 27.

    I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. Dan. 7:13,14

Of course, Daniel was not the first prophet to speak of that coming day when the King and Judge of all the earth would arise to set matters right. This was a conviction deeply engrained in the Hebrew consciousness. God was, above all, the Lawgiver and the righteous Judge. Even in their annual sanctuary ritual (Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement) the Jews saw an enactment of judgment day: 

God seated on His throne to judge the world, at the same time Judge, Pleader, Expert, and Witness, openeth the Book of Records. . . . The great trumpet is sounded, a still small voice is heard; the angels shudder, saying this is the day of judgment. . . . On New Year's Day the decree is written, on the Day of Atonement it is sealed who shall live and who are to die, etc. —Art. "Day of Atonement," The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol.2, p.286.

The Psalmist, too, repeatedly speaks of God's arising in judgment to plead the cause of His downtrodden people and to punish evil. As in prophetic spirit he announces the arrival of that day, his spirit breaks forth in songs of unrestrained joy (see PS. 96:11-13; 67:4).

But as we said, it is in Daniel that the eschatological hope of the judgment is given its most definite expression. In a sense, the whole book of Daniel is about God's great intervening act of judgment when the king would be restored. Daniel means God is my Judge, and even the stories of Daniel illustrate God's great interposition on behalf of His people.

3. In Daniel 8 the prophet is told about the restoration and vindication of God's downtrodden Sanctuary. It will be remembered that at the time Daniel saw these visions, the sanctuary at Jerusalem lay in ruins. That he was burdened for its speedy restoration is evident from his intercessory prayer in Daniel 9. "Now therefore, O our God," he prayed, "hear the prayer of Thy servant, and his supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake." v.17. But the vision of Daniel 8 carries us beyond the limits of the restoration at the end of the seventy years. Along with Daniel 2 and 7, it takes us forward to the great eschatological restoration, when all that the Jewish temple stood for and prefigured (worship, fellowship, covenant, etc.) will be sadaq (Dan. 8:14) — put right, victorious, vindicated, and restored to its rightful state.3

Isaiah had spoken of a new exodus at the end of the Babylonian rule. Likewise, Jeremiah had spoken of a "new covenant" (Jer. 31), and Ezekiel of a new temple (Ezek. 40). But this new exodus, this hope of a renewed covenant, and this expectation of a glorious temple did not take place at the end of the seventy years in Babylon. This could only take place in an eschatological event. It is in Daniel that this eschatological hope is most clearly expressed.

4. Daniel 12.  So far Daniel has spoken of the restoration in terms of the kingdom, the king, and the sanctuary. Thus far the hope is expressed in very theocentric categories, for it is God's restoration from beginning to end — His kingdom, His King and His sanctuary. But in the last vision the hope becomes more personal and describes the restoration of the people of God.. In fact, all symbolism is thrown away as Daniel speaks very literally of the personal hope of every Hebrew: " ... many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life. . . ." Dan. 12:2.

Here is what the apostles of the New Testament call the hope of the resurrection (Acts 23:6). This hope was first given to the patriarchs, but it has to be admitted that the doctrine of the resurrection is only implicitly intimated in Moses. In the Psalms the concept begins to emerge more strongly that death cannot be the end of blessed fellowship with the living God. With the possible exception of Isaiah (chs. 25:8; 26:19), the doctrine of resurrection to "eternal life" is given its most definite expression in the book of Daniel. Says Dr. Alan Richardson in his An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (Harper & Row):
    This conception of a general resurrection makes its first appearance in Jewish literature in Daniel 12:2. . . . This is the only occurrence of the expression zoe aionios [life eternal, or life of the Age to Come] in Greek translations of the Old Testament. . . . The phrase is entirely Jewish . . . [it] is not found in pagan religions and philosophical writings until long after the New Testament period. — pp.72, 73.
The Hebrew concept of the afterlife was vastly different from the Greek view. If the Greek thought of salvation, it was in terms of "the flight of the soul from the world and history," 4 from the prison house of the body, and from all things material. On the other hand, the Hebrews viewed this earth as God's creation and the scene of God's activity. All things are God's gifts to be enjoyed in wholeness of life. Redemption is not a flight from the world or escape from earthly, bodily existence, but restoration of man to his true creaturehood, where he may enjoy all of God's gifts in fellowship with God. This is the theology behind the concept of the resurrection of the body.5

So the book of Daniel gives the most mature and definite expression to Israel's eschatological hope. The coming of the kingdom of God (Dan. 2), the action of the judgment of God to restore the King (Dan. 7), the vindication of the sanctuary of God (Dan. 8) and the restoration of the people of God (Dan.12) are presented as that which would usher in the life of "the age to come" (Dan. 12). All this would come to pass through "the Seed of the woman" "the Son of David," the One who is called "Messiah" in only one Old Testament book — the book of Daniel. In the fullness of time God would send Him to do the work foretold in Daniel 9:24 —
    "to finish transgression,

    and to make an end of sins,

    and to make reconciliation for iniquity,

    and to bring in everlasting righteousness."

Therefore the Hebrew people fully expected that this grand eschatological hope would be fulfilled in the coming of God's Messiah in the last days.



1 We are aware of the arguments for the late dating of Daniel, but for reasons which we cannot deal with here, we feel fully justified in holding to the conservative position. It is unthinkable that the New Testament. as we shall see, would make so much use of a forgery of late dating.

2 The return from the exile prefigured the eschatological restoration.

3 We cannot here pause to set forth all the arguments as to why Daniel 8 points to an eschatological deliverance and triumph for God and His people. But when this chapter is viewed in the context of the fourfold prophetic outline, the evidence is overwhelming. The parallelism is too strong to deny it. All attempts to handle Daniel 8 less than eschatologically stick out like a sore thumb and disjoint the unity of Daniel's message.

4 George Eldon Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, p.40.

5 See Ladd, Ibid., for an excellent discussion on Greek and Hebrew thought in relation to redemption.