Throughout the book of Daniel, God has revealed grand visions of the future to Daniel, many of which encompass the entirety of redemptive history from Daniel’s time to the end of this present age. In each vision, there is an obvious progression from one thing to the next, but because most of these visions are highly symbolic their chronology is not easy to appreciate apart from the historical outworking of each event.
For example, the vision of Daniel 7 presents a succession of four beasts (and a progression within the fourth beast for that matter) that ends with the appearance of the Ancient of Days and the crowning of the Son of Man as King of kings and Lord of lords. Apart from the historical outworking of the early succession of beasts, we would not know that the first three beasts cover a period of hundreds of years. The reason is that, for the most part, chronology is not important. How many hundreds of years the kingdom of Persia retains hegemony is beside the main point that kingdoms rise and fall until Christ rules over all.
I bring this up because Daniel 11 includes a challenging chronology that has a direct impact on how we read this chapter. Most scholars agree that this revelation begins to detail the rise and success of Antiochus Epiphanes starting in v21. Where scholars do not agree is the relationship between vv21-35 and vv36-45. Are vv36-45 a continuation of the description of Antiochus Epiphanes, or a transition to someone new? Historically, vv36-45 are difficult, if not impossible, to fit in with what we know about Antiochus Epiphanes, which suggests that these verses are moving from Antiochus to another king. On the other hand, there does not appear to be any decisive shift in subject between vv35 and 36 that would warrant a change from Antiochus to another figure.
This is where it is helpful to remember that Daniel is receiving a revelation that is less concerned about the timing of these events, even to a degree unconcerned about the identities of the individuals involved, but is more concerned about communicating major themes so that Daniel’s troubled heart might be strengthened.
This is reinforced by the fact that a disproportionate amount of ink is spilled on Antiochus’ relatively short rule as compared to the kings and kingdoms that came before him. Hundreds of years of history are described in vv2-20, whereas a few years of history are described in vv21-35. Thus, even before we get to the transition from v35 to v36, we have to appreciate that the passage of time is not to scale in relation to the focus of this text. Therefore, why is it inconceivable that a chronological gap exists between vv35 and 36?
Another point is helpful to remember here. While we can apply names to the kings of Persia and Greece, God’s revelation to Daniel is not concerned to identify these characters by name. Is it because God doesn’t know? By no means, for God identifies Cyrus by name as the one who will send God’s people back to the promised land (cf. Isa 44:28, 45:1). It’s not that the names aren’t known; it’s that they aren’t important. The focus is not on developing a detailed account of the history of the world but providing consolation to a faithful servant that things will get worse before they get better. It is about giving a word of encouragement that even when things get worse, God himself is still in control, no matter the identity of the earthly king “in charge.”
And so, all we get are generic descriptions of kings, from Persia, of Greece, of the north, and of the south. For that reason, we don’t need to expect some dramatic shift between v35 and v36. Nobody has been named, and so there is no need for a decisive break. Additionally, Antiochus is, as we’ve seen in previous chapters, an antichrist that prefigures the Antichrist. Antiochus is the little horn of Daniel 8 who prefigures, but is not, the little horn of Daniel 7. From that perspective, there is already a thematic unity between a description of Antiochus and a description of the Antichrist. Thematically, there is no need for a decisive break.
Pulling all of these things together, there is no good reason to deny a change in subject from v35 to v36, and there are good reasons to understand vv36-45 as the antitypical fulfillment of Antiochus’ antagonization of God’s people at the end of this age. The prophetic perspective that collapses the chronology between Antiochus and the Antichrist then serves to heighten the truth that God is in control throughout all of time.