Daniel’s Prophecy of Antiochus Epiphanes

By Jason Jackson

“The Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will” (Dan. 5:21, ESV). Belshazzar knew this, but he disregarded the hard-learned lesson of Nebuchadnezzar (v. 22). He was, therefore, weighed in the balances. Likewise, all who live with a disregard for the Most High God are found wanting (v. 27).

Babylonian Captivity furnished the context for this great message. Daniel, the prophet — in that way Jesus Christ referred to him (Matt. 24:15) — recorded selective events to demonstrate the truth that God is in control.

In the first six chapters of the book, Daniel and friends appeared healthier than the other chosen youths, though they subsisted on a meager diet, refusing to compromise their convictions (Dan. 1). By divine direction, Daniel told and interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which was a testimony of what God would do in history (Dan. 2).

The Lord intervened to save the three Hebrew youths, although the most powerful man in the world had ordered their execution (Dan. 3). The proud tyrant did Jehovah make “to lie down in green pastures.” After which, Nebuchadnezzer confessed, “… those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan. 4:37).

The demise of Babylon and Belshazzar were the Lord’s doing (Dan. 5). And Daniel’s harmless night in the lions’ den convinced Darius that the God of Daniel, “… he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (Dan. 6:26).

From the beginning to the end of captivity in Babylon, these special events showed that God rules the kingdom of mankind.

In the latter half of the book, Daniel reports a series of visions. Daniel, through divine inspiration, sees and records events yet-to-be. The mere fact that God reveals the future proves his power and sovereignty (cf. Is. 44:24—45:13). These predicted events were exactly fulfilled, demonstrating yet again — the Most High God rules, even as evil men work out unwittingly God’s providential desires.

Skeptics have alleged that such events were certainly recorded after the fact — the work of a historian and not a prophet. Peter C. Craigie notes the importance of the interpretation of Daniel, as he says, “in the minds of some”:

“The dreams of Daniel, if taken as sixth century productions, clearly and accurately predict the course of Near Eastern history down to the middle of the second century B.C. (at least), and are a testimony to the accuracy of God’s special revelation to Daniel. On the other hand, it is precisely the concurrence between the substance of the visions and the actual history of the Near East which compels other interpreters to claim that the visions must have been written after the events they describe” (The Old Testament: Its Background, Growth and Content, Nashville: Abingdon, 1986, p. 246).

The thought of predictive prophecy is more than the humanistic mind can bear, so many have become dedicated to convincing themselves — and others — that the book of Daniel must be the work of a second century unknown mystery writer. Robert D. Wilson, in his mammoth work, Studies in the book of Daniel, concludes:

“Now, in the works already published and elsewhere in this volume, we have endeavoured to show, that the objections against Daniel based upon the alleged inaccuracy of its statements about the age of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus are unfounded, that the argument from silence as illustrated in Ecclesiasticus and other cases is fallacious, that the argument from Daniel’s place in the present Hebrew Bible has no basis to rest on, and that the origin and influence of its ideas and its background including its language are in harmony with its claims to have been written in the sixth century B.C. in a Babylonian environment” (Vol. 2, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972, p. 271).

If the book of Daniel is the product of Daniel the prophet, then the point is proven and undeniable: God rules. This theological conclusion will forever be unacceptable to some, in that same way that some saw Lazarus raised from the dead and still refused to believe that Jesus was the Christ. In spite of indisputable evidence, the prophet will remain under attack, which assault inadvertently reminds us of the apologetic potency of the book of Daniel.

In the sixth century B.C., Daniel wrote,

“Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece” (Dan. 11:2).

The prediction of Greece as a succeeding world power to the Persian empire is itself amazing; the fall of Persia and the rise of Alexander’s Empire were two hundred years in the future at the time of Daniel’s vision.

Yet, Daniel’s predictions become even more detailed. Concerning the rise of Alexander the Great, he says,

“Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills” (Dan. 11:3).

The premature death of Alexander is rehearsed in many sixth grade text books, and the division of his kingdom into four parts, assumed by four military leaders, is also well-known. Daniel foresaw these events:

“And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these” (Dan. 11:4).

Two of these divisions of Alexander’s empire are prominent in the subsequent part of Daniel’s vision — the kings of the North and South (Dan. 11:5-20). We know them as the Seleucid and Ptolemy dynasties. The facts of the campaigns and conflicts between these powers are easily reviewed with a good encyclopedia, and the careful reader will observe the “concurrence between the substance of the visions and the actual history of the Near East” (Craigie, p. 246).

In Daniel 11:21-35, the prophet reveals the rise and rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who reigned from 175-164 B.C. Daniel’s prediction involves the rise of Antiochus to power, the conflicts of Antiochus with Egypt (i.e., the king of the South), and his hostilities towards Israel.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica 2003 Deluxe Edition states:

“Antiochus was the third son of Antiochus III the Great. After his father’s defeat by the Romans in 190—189, he served as hostage for his father in Rome from 189 to 175, where he learned to admire Roman institutions and policies. His brother, King Seleucus IV, exchanged him for Demetrius, the son of Seleucus; and after Seleucus was murdered by Heliodorus, a usurper, Antiochus in turn ousted him” (“Antiochus IV Epiphanes,” Britannica Corp, 2003.).

The demise of Seleucus IV preceded Antiochus’ rise to power, and Daniel prophesies the untimely end of Seleucus (Dan. 11:20-21).

“Then shall arise in his [Antiochus III] place one [Seleucus IV] who shall send an exactor of tribute for the glory of the kingdom. But, within a few days he shall be broken, neither in anger nor in battle” (v. 20).

Seleucus IV, brother of Antiochus, succeeded his father Antiocus III the Great. Apparently, Seleucus sent Heliodorus to plunder the temple in Jerusalem, but he returned empty-handed. Gleason Archer observes,

“No other details are given in this verse of the twelve-year reign of this rather ineffectual king, except that he did not die in battle or in a mob action as had his father, Antiochus. Yet Seleucus IV met an untimely end through poison administered by Heliodorus” (Expositor Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985, p. 134).

And Daniel foresaw,

“In his [Seleucus IV] place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries” (Dan. 11:21).

Although Demetrius, the son of Seleucus IV, was the rightful successor, Antiochus determined to seize control.

Antiochus’ rise to power corresponded to the following predictions by Daniel, the prophet of the Most High God:

  1. Antiochus would come to power after the untimely death of his predecessor.
  2. He was a contemptible person, thus he was called by many Antiochus Epimanes (i.e., the madman) instead of his preferred appellation Epiphanes (i.e., God Manifest).
  3. He was not an heir to the throne, indeed to him “royal majesty has not been given.”
  4. Antiochus did not lead a bloody coup, but he obtained “the kingdom by flatteries.” Edward J. Young writes, “By flattery he won over the kings of Pergamus to his cause, and the Syrians gave in peaceably” (The Prophecy of Daniel, Grand Rapids: Eerdmands, 1977, p. 241).

These specific details, prophesied about 350 years before they transpired, were fulfilled in Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The time and manner of his rise to power were foretold in the book of Daniel — the Most High rules the kingdom of men.

The conflicts of Antiochus IV with Egypt are predicted in Daniel 11:22-30, which details are amazing. The relevance to the biblical scheme is that these campaigns bring him into direct contact with Israel, since Palestine is between Syria and Egypt. Note the prophetic specifics concerning the hostilities of Antiochus against Israel:

“At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before. For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time” (Dan. 11:29-35).

  1. The hostilities of Antiochus IV against Israel would happen during more than one Egyptian conflict (Dan. 11:29-30).
  2. Antiochus would take military control of Jerusalem, and especially the temple: “Forces from him shall appear …” (v. 31a).
  3. He would cause the sacrifices to cease: “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering” (v. 31).
  4. He would “set up the abomination that makes desolate” (v. 31b).
  5. Antiochus would prefer and protect those who “violate the covenant” (v. 32a).
  6. Antiochus would meet resistance (vv. 32b-33).
  7. The righteous would suffer intense persecution (vv. 33-34a).
  8. There would be imposters among the righteous (v. 34b).
  9. These events would result in a purification of the people of God (v. 35).

In view of these verses, consider the following excerpt:

“Antiochus’ hellenizing policies brought him into conflict with the prosperous Oriental temple organizations, and particularly with the Jews. Since Antiochus III’s reign the Jews had enjoyed extensive autonomy under their high priest. They were divided into two parties, the orthodox Hasideans (Pious Ones) and a reform party that favoured Hellenism. For financial reasons Antiochus supported the reform party and, in return for a considerable sum, permitted the high priest, Jason, to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem and to introduce the Greek mode of educating young people. In 172, for an even bigger tribute, he appointed Menelaus in place of Jason. In 169, however, while Antiochus was campaigning in Egypt, Jason conquered Jerusalem—with the exception of the citadel—and murdered many adherents of his rival Menelaus. When Antiochus returned from Egypt in 167 he took Jerusalem by storm and enforced its Hellenization. The city forfeited its privileges and was permanently garrisoned by Syrian soldiers.” (“Antiochus IV Epiphanes,” The Encyclopaedia Britannica 2003 Deluxe Edition, Britannica Corp, 2003).

Skeptics allege that these events were recorded after the fact — that is, they were the work of an historian and not a prophet. They reject the possibility of predictive prophecy, therefore any other explanation will do.

The following quotation summarizes the power and importance of Daniel’s predictions, and it is a fitting conclusion to the thoughts we have entertained. Robert D. Wilson remarks:

“Of course, those who do not believe in God, nor in a revelation from God to man, nor in any superhuman prediction of future events, will reject alike the predictions of Daniel, Jesus, Paul, and John. But for those who call themselves Christians to deny the resurrection, the judgment, the second coming, and other predicted events, is absurd enough to make all the logicians in Hades laugh and all the angels weep … Woe to the so-called Christian who under the pretence of a science falsely so-called denies the reality of revelation. Like Esau, he has sold his birthright of the hope of eternal glory for a mess of pottage, the beggarly elements of worldly wisdom and pride” (Studies in the Book of Daniel, Vol. 2, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972, p. 270).