This is the fourth post of a four-part series connected to the new book “Interpreting Daniel for Preaching and Teaching” authored by Talbot School of Theology professors Brandon Cash and Tom Finley.

Eschatology refers to the doctrine or teaching of last things. The teaching of Daniel’s eschatology can be summarized in two statements. First, as the ruler of the universe, God is in control of the future. Second, the end or eschaton that the book of Daniel always has in mind is the kingdom of God on earth that will last forever. All other kingdoms are only temporary and come on the scene one after another until finally the kingdom that God sets up arrives. Daniel 7:27 gives the clearest statement of the eschaton: “Then the sovereignty and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all the ruling powers will serve and obey him.”

God’s control of the future is first revealed when Daniel 1:2 states that “the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] power.” Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, but it was God who gave him the victory. The clearest verses about God’s control of history are found in Daniel 2:20–22. God has all power and all wisdom, and he “removes kings and sets up kings.” Every chapter of Daniel’s book reinforces the key doctrine of God’s sovereign control. Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede — each king sees his plans or royal commands overturned by God’s greater master plan.

Daniel shows the progress of history through a scheme of four kingdoms as seen first in chapter two by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great statue. Daniel’s vision of chapter seven then picks up the same idea of four kingdoms but this time through strange animals that represent earthly kingdoms in rebellion against God. All kingdoms will be judged by the Ancient of Days, but the fourth and most terrifying kingdom will yield a final king who will defy God. His judgment will usher in the everlasting kingdom possessed by God’s people.

Daniel has additional visions that give special focus on the Jewish people in relationship to the rest of the world in chapters eight to 12. Daniel 8 gives a prophetic description of the eventual rise and demise of a tyrant who will attempt to stamp out the Jewish religion. He is a type of the final king described in Daniel’s vision of chapter seven. Chapters 10 to 12 depict the difficulties the Jews will have as they are in between warring Gentile forces. The end of everything will include a resurrection and a glorious future.

A period of seventy “weeks” or periods of seven reveal most directly the future of the Jewish people. From the return to the land, to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, to the coming of the Messiah and his death, and to the final chapter in history that encompasses both Jews and Gentiles, the scheme of seventy weeks gives a general pattern of the flow of the fortunes of the Jews throughout history.

People always want to know when things are going to happen. When will Christ return? How long until there will be justice on the earth? Scholars and scribes and diligent enquirers have for centuries attempted to figure out when the eschaton will come, but the book of Daniel conceals the mystery even when it seems to give clues. There are four kingdoms, but what is the fourth and last kingdom? There are seventy weeks, but where will they end? And are they literal or playing with the number seven in a figurative way? Daniel puts the whole issue of the eschaton in its proper perspective. In whatever place you find yourself in history, realize that God could break in at any moment with the promised kingdom. Serve him faithfully according to his purposes for you as one who fears him. And always remember that whatever wisdom or health or power you have comes ultimately from him. All glory and honor and power to him who endures forever!

*To read more about the eschatology of Daniel, check outour new commentary on Daniel.