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13 March 2020

Unsealing Daniel's Scroll in Revelation

SynopsisThe “scroll” that Daniel was commanded to “seal shut” is unsealed and its contents unveiled in the book of Revelation.

Bible Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
By Aaron Burden on Unsplash
At the close of his visions, Daniel was commanded by an angel to seal shut the contents of the scroll “until the season of the end.” This did not mean that his visions were not written down or that copies were not available for others to read. The existence of the book of Daniel has preserved for posterity the details of his dreams and visions.

But the inference of the angel’s words was that a proper understanding of his visions would not be forthcoming until a future point or “season.” We should note that Daniel himself did not understand the full import of his visions at pivotal points.

For example, at the end of his dream about four “beasts ascending from the sea,” the prophet remained troubled by what he had seen (“Greatly did my thoughts terrify me, and my bright looks were changed upon me, but the matter—in mine own heart I kept” – Daniel 7:28).

Likewise, after his vision about the Ram and Goat and its interpretation provided by the angel Gabriel, Daniel found himself “confounded concerning the revelation, yet no one could discern it”:

(Daniel 8:26-27) – “And the vision of the evenings and mornings which hath been told is true: but shut thou up the vision; for it belongeth to many days to come. And I, Daniel, fainted, and was sick certain days; then I rose up, and did the king’s business: and I was confounded concerning the revelation, yet no one could discern it.

(Daniel 12:1-4) – “And, at that time, will Michael, the great ruler who standeth for the sons of thy people, make a stand, and there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation up to that time— and, at that time, shall thy people be delivered, every one found written in the hook; and many of the sleepers in the dusty ground shall awake — these [shall be] to age-abiding life, but those to reproach and age-abiding abhorrence; and they who make wise shall shine like the shining of the expanse — and they who bring the many to righteousness like the stars to times age-abiding and beyond. But, thou, Daniel, close up the words and seal the book until the time of the end — many will run to and fro, and knowledge shall abound” – (The Emphasized Bible).

It must be borne in mind that the descriptions of “scrolls” seen in the visions of Daniel and John are symbolic, not literal. The point of a scroll being “sealed” is that the proper understanding of its contents will remain hidden until, presumably, a time predetermined by God. As pointed out above, the church and the Jewish people have possessed recorded copies of Daniel’s visions for thousands of years; the issue is the correct interpretation of them.

One school of interpretation sees the passage from Daniel 12:4 as a promise that the significance of its visions will be disclosed in the years just prior to the return of Jesus in glory; that is, to the “last generation” of believers. But this common interpretation misses or ignores how the book of Revelation applies this very verse.

The book of Revelation never cites Old Testament passages directly. Instead, it employs verbal allusions to clauses from the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible and incorporates them into its presentation. Very often, Revelation modifies the original words from an Old Testament verse to make a point. For example, Nebuchadnezzar was told that God had disclosed to him things that “must come to pass in later times.” Revelation quotes this clause verbatim except it changes “later times” to “soon.” That is, what was for Nebuchadnezzar in a distant future was now at hand for the original audience of the book of Revelation (Daniel 2:27-28, Revelation 1:1).

The very first word of the book of Revelation is apokalupsis or “revelation,” which means an “unveiling, disclosure, revelation.” God gave the visions recorded in the book of Revelation “to Jesus to show His servants what things must come to pass soon.” The visions are not meant to hide or mystify, but to disclose information about imminent events. The stress is on what must occur “soon,” not on some remote future. Compare the following passages:

(Revelation 1:1) – “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to point out to his servants the things which must needs come to pass soon.”

(Revelation 1:3) – “Blessed is he that reads, and they who hear, the words of the prophecy, and keep the things written in it, for the season is near.

(Revelation 22:6) – “The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to point out to his servants the things which must needs come to pass soon.”

(Revelation 22:10) – “And he saith unto me — Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll for the season is near.”

It is noteworthy that the book opens and ends with the same declaration about the contents of its revelation (“What things must come to pass soon”), and the same chronological marker (“The season is near’).

The first paragraph of the book of Revelation declares that its purpose is to “show God’s servants by signs what things must come to pass soon,” His servants, in the first place, being the seven churches of Asia. The paragraph concludes with promised blessings for Christians who hear and heed the words of the prophecy, because “the season is near.” What John refers to is the record of his visions now preserved in the book of Revelation, that is, the “words of the prophecy” (Revelation 1:1-3).

The clause, “what things must come to pass soon,” is an allusion to the words of Daniel to king Nebuchadnezzar about his dream of a great image. The highlighted clause is in the Septuagint version an exact match to the Greek clause translated from Revelation 1:1, only, “latter days” from Daniel has been changed to “soon” in Revelation. In other words, what was in a remote future for Daniel is now imminent for the churches of Asia.

The season is near” recorded in Revelation 1:3 is derived from the clause in Daniel 12:4, which originally read, “the season of the end.” In both passages, “season” represents the Greek noun kairos, meaning, “season, opportune time, set time.” As with Daniel 2:28, the book of Revelation changes “the end” to “near” or “at hand.” The latter translates the Greek term engus, which denotes something “near, imminent.”

At the conclusion of the book Revelation, an angel commands John NOTto seal the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the season is at hand,” once again, alluding to Daniel 12:4. The verbal parallel with Daniel is clear and deliberate. What Daniel was told to seal until a distant future, John is told not to seal, specifically, because the time of disclosure has arrived.
Daniel was commanded to “seal” the book until the season of the end. Revelation declares that the promised “season” is now at hand, if not already underway. From the perspective of John, the promised season had arrived.

This accords with the view expressed elsewhere in the New Testament that the predicted “last days” began with the death and resurrection of Jesus. This radical change in era is evidenced by the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers (e.g., Acts 2:16-21, Ephesians 1:10, Hebrews 1:1-3).

The point from the book of Revelation is that the season of fulfillment anticipated in the book of Daniel commenced with the victory of Jesus achieved in his Death and Resurrection. What was a distant expectation in Daniel was now underway because of the exaltation of Jesus after his resurrection.

Thus, the vision that John received on Patmos concerns far more than just history’s final few years before the return of Jesus or the real-life experiences of the churches of Asia in the first century, though their situations are included in it.

The salutation of John to the churches of Asia opens with greetings from God, the “seven spirits before the throne,” and from “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; who made us to be a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father” (Revelation 1:4-6).

The sovereignty of Jesus over the “kings of the earth” is presented as an accomplished fact. He is the one who bore faithful witness in his death. He is the firstborn of the dead through his resurrection. His death and resurrection form the basis of his reign at the right hand of God; therefore, he is the (present) “ruler of the kings of the earth.” His rulership is not waiting for some future event after another interim period, or for his return at the end of the age. His rule is a present reality.

By his obedience unto death, Jesus “overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.” His right to take and open the “scroll sealed with seven seals” was achieved in his sacrificial death; already, he has all authority (“I am the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades”). He became worthy to open the Sealed Scroll by his sacrificial death and began to do so upon his arrival at the Throne of God (Revelation 1:18, 3:21, 6:1, 5:5-6).

Anyone waiting for some prophetic point in the future for insight into the prophecies of Daniel is a day late and a dollar short. The messianic age has dawned already in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The book of Revelation unseals and unveils what Daniel was commanded to seal shut.

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