If you are a student of Bible prophecy, then I want you to get your Bible out and open it to Daniel chapter 8. Now, if you consult nearly any commentary on the Book of Daniel, you’ll find they nearly all interpret this prophecy as fulfilled in history. The prophecy begins with a ram butting to the west, to the north and to the south, which most believe refers to the historical conquests of the Medo-Persian Empire:
[B]ehold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last. I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself. (vv. 3-4)
After this, a male goat with a single prominent horn charged from the east and crushed the ram. Most understand this to refer to the historical conquests of the Greek armies (the goat) led by Alexander the Great (the prominent horn):
While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath. I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power (vv. 5-7).
No sooner does the Greek goat defeat the Persians and exalt itself that its great leader dies or “was broken.” After this, four other horns grow up in its place. One of these horns in particular, starts small, but eventually becomes great, controlling much of the Middle East. Most interpret this little horn to refer to the historical Antiochus IV Epiphanes:
Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven. Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land (vv. 8-9).
This is where the historical interpretation begins to run into significant problems. For the “little horn” that grows large is not only said to conquer the northern swatch of the Middle East, it is also said to carry out some profound events in heaven:
It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper (vv. 10-12).
Now, will anyone claim that Antiochus caused some of the angels (stars) to fall from heaven? I certainly hope not. In fact, the Book of Revelation describes precisely the same event, but there it is Satan the dragon, who causes the angels to fall, and it is something that takes place in the last seven years before the return of Christ:
Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth… the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Revelation 12:3-4,7-9 emphasis mine).
Next two angels began explaining the vision of the ram and the goat and the little horn, and Daniel is given some profound information concerning the timing of these things. One angel standing on the banks of the River Ulai (which is in modern day Iran) called to the other angel and said, “Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision” (v. 16). So Gabriel came to Daniel and said, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end” (v. 17).
Suddenly the idea that this was solely about the historical Persian and Greek empires becomes very difficult. For Gabriel himself told Daniel that the vision concerned the end times. He did not say that part of the vision was historical and part of it was future. He simply said that the vision concerned the time of the end. If it was not enough to say it once, Gabriel then repeated his statement to really let it sink in again stating: “Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for it pertains to the appointed time of the end” (v. 19).
To be fair, Gabriel then went on to explain that the ram represented “the kings of Media and Persia,” while the goat represented “the kingdom of Greece.” The word there for Greece is actually Javan, which included the west coast of modern day Turkey as well.
Now, I have always interpreted the vision to pertain to the historical empires of Medo-Persia and Greece, and then the little horn, while being partially fulfilled in the life of Antiochus Epiphanes, to be ultimately fulfilled in the last days through Antichrist. Many other commentators hold to this view as well. Although I have more than 100 commentaries on the book of Daniel, I had never really considered any other view until I read “Daniel Revisited” by Mark Davidson. In that book, Davidson, taking a radical futurist perspective, makes some excellent points that I had simply never considered. When we actually read the explanation of Gabriel, the truth is that he does not make any such break in the vision, placing some of it in history and some of it the future. He simply says that the vision pertains to the time of the end. And then he says it again.
If the ultimate meaning of the entire vision is eschatological, pertaining to the time of the end, while it may certainly maintain a historical partial fulfillment, it may also very well speak of two forthcoming regional wars. The first war would be Iran “butting” as it were to the west, the north and the south – into the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and perhaps Bahrain, Azerbaijan and as far as Israel and Egypt. But after this, Turkey in the east would launch a counter offensive. After this time, it appears as though out of the ashes of these wars, in the region stretching from Nineveh (Mosul) to Turkey, we should expect to see the Antichrist arise, starting small but then gaining in power. With Iran already declaring that it will enter the fray in Iraq to respond to the ISIS offensive, the beginning of Daniel’s vision may very well be beginning to unfold right in front of us. Am I saying that this is absolutely how it is going to happen and that “this is that?” Not yet, but I think we can all acknowledge that what is now unfolding in Iraq and Iran makes this all a very real possibility.