Is the Pope in Daniel?
a critique of Adventist prophetic
by William J. Cork
The foundation of Seventh-day Adventism is its
interpretation of Biblical apocalyptic, especially the books of Daniel and
Revelation. It was William Miller's interpretation of Daniel 7-9 that
led him to predict the second coming of Jesus in 1844. When Jesus failed
to return, the group that became Seventh-day Adventism was not able
to admit that they had made a basic hermeneutical mistake. Instead,
they clung to all of Miller's principles of interpretation, only changing
their mind about the event which was to come to pass in 1844.
According to Adventist teaching, what happened in 1844 was that Jesus "entered
the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary," to begin a work of "investigative
Moreover, Adventists see Daniel and Revelation as predicting the rise of
Catholicism, which they identify as the Anti-Christ. The papacy, they say,
is the "little horn" of Daniel which would "think to change times and laws"
(and they claim that in the future it will enforce Sunday observance on
Adventists on pain of death).
But are either of these teachings so?
Daniel 8 is the key to the passage--it is at once the central pillar of
Adventism--and its Achilles' heel.
Daniel 8: A ram and a goat
The heart of the chapter is a vision of two beasts, a ram and a goat.
In my vision, I saw myself in the fortress of Susa in the province of Elam;
I was beside the river Ulai. I looked up and saw standing by the river a
ram with two great horns, the one larger and newer than the other. I saw
the ram butting toward the west, north, and south. No beast could withstand
it or be rescued from its power; it did what it pleased and became very powerful.
As I was reflecting, a he-goat with a prominent horn on its forehead suddenly
came from the west across the whole earth without touching the ground. It
approached the two-horned ram I had seen standing by the river, and rushed
toward it with savage force. I saw it attack the ram with furious blows when
they met, and break both its horns. It threw the ram, which had not the force
to withstand it, to the ground, and trampled upon it; and no one could rescue
it from its power.
The he-goat became very powerful, but at the height of its power the great
horn was shattered, and in its place came up four others, facing the four
winds of heaven. Out of one of them came a little horn which kept growing
toward the south, the east, and the glorious country. Its power extended
to the host of heaven, so that it cast down to earth some of the host and
some of the stars and trampled on them. It boasted even against the prince
of the host, from whom it removed the daily sacrifice, and whose sanctuary
it cast down, as well as the host, while sin replaced the daily sacrifice.
It cast truth to the ground, and was succeeding in its undertaking.
I heard a holy one speaking, and another said to whichever one it was that
spoke, "How long shall the events of this vision last concerning the daily
sacrifice, the desolating sin which is placed there, the sanctuary, and the
trampled host?" He answered him, "For two thousand three hundred evenings
and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be purified." [Daniel 8:2-14,
The vision is an important one, and a voice immediately tells Gabriel to
explain it to Daniel.
"The two-horned ram you saw represents the kings of the Medes and Persians.
The he-goat is the king of the Greeks, and the great horn on its forehead
is the first king. The four that rose in its place when it was broken are
four kingdoms that will issue from his nation, but without his strength.
"After their reign, when sinners have reached their measure, there shall
arise a king, impudent and skilled in intrigue. He shall be strong and powerful,
bring about fearful ruin, and succeed in his undertaking. He shall destroy
powerful peoples; his cunning shall be against the holy ones, his treacherous
conduct shall succeed, he shall be proud of heart and destroy many by stealth.
but when he rises against the prince of princes, he shall be broken without
a hand being raised." [Daniel 8:20-25, NAB]
Here we're given everything we need to interpret the passage. Persia comes
along from the east and conquers lots of territory; it is stopped, and destroyed
by Greece, which comes from the west and advances rapidly under its first
great king--acknowledged by everyone to be Alexander the Great. He died young,
and instead of being succeeded by a son, the empire was divided between four
of Alexander's generals: Cassander took Greece, Lysimachus took Asia Minor,
Seleucus took Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt. These four established dynastic
successions in their kingdoms; the two most important for Biblical history
being the Ptolomies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. Palestine became
sort of a no-man's land for these latter, as each sought to control the
crossroads of empire; it was successively invaded by the Seleucids to the
North and the Ptolomies to the South. Thus, later in Daniel (ch. 10ff), we
see these powers referred to as "King of the North" and "King of the South."
Even Adventism's key prophetic interpreter, Uriah Smith, had to acknowledge
Now let's get back to the Greek goat with its (now) four horns; in Daniel
8:8 we read that out of one of them comes a little horn, which grows towards
the south, the east and the glorious country. What does this little horn
sprout from? Obviously, from one of the horns. (Though some "clever" Adventists
suggest that it sprouts from the winds!!!) Don't be distracted by this; the
important point is the horns are said to be kings, and the goat is said to
be Greek. This is absolutely unambiguous.
So, this little Greek king exalts himself and makes some territorial gains.
Unlike any other Greek king, he directs his attention at "the prince of the
host"--Michael, the protector of Israel. In 8:11-12, he attacks the sanctuary
and stops the sacrifices. Where's the sanctuary? In Jerusalem. What is the
daily sacrifice? It is the sacrifice offered in the evening and the morning
every day in the temple in Jerusalem.
Did a Greek king of Syria do this? Yes; a man by the name of Antiochus IV
Epiphanes. Now here is where the Adventist sneers-- "Antiochus?! He was a
petty demagogue! He wasn't greater than Persia or Alexander! He lasted a
few years, and after conquering Egypt ran back to Syria like a dog with its
tail between its legs when Rome shook a stick in his direction, and he just
attacked Jerusalem to vent his frustration."
But the Adventist forgets here the principle that he acknowledges elsewhere,
that what causes a prophet to mention a nation is not its significance to
the world, but its significance to Israel (thus we see no mention in the
Bible of the great empires of China or India). Antiochus might have been
puny--but he did invade Egypt. He might not have had Alexander's empire,
but he acted as if he did. He didn't conquer as much land, but he directed
his greatest wrath and scorn at the dwelling place of the Name of God, the
temple in Jerusalem.
Now comes the next big turning point: "How long is this going to last," someone
asks in 8:13--"How long is the sanctuary going to be trampled?" And the answer
is given immediately in verse 14, "For two thousand three hundred evenings
and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be purified."
Adventists now leave the context completely. They divorce the little horn
from the beast; it is no longer connected to Greece, but is ROME. They combine
the "evenings and mornings" of v. 14 (which, contextually, are clearly
sacrifices) into "days." And then they turn these "days" into years. Ignoring
the question of Daniel 8:13, they connect v. 14 with chapter 9, and say this
is a prophecy of a 2,300 year period, starting in 457 BC and extending to
1844. The purification of the sanctuary is not the restoration of a desecrated
temple (as the context demands) but is instead the "cleansing of the sanctuary"
that occurred on the Day of Atonement--Yom Kippur (ignoring the fact that
the word translated "cleansed" here is not the same word in Lev. 16). Of
course, there was no temple in Jerusalem in 1844; thus this must be in heaven.
And so, they reason, Jesus went "within the veil" into the "most holy place"
of the "heavenly sanctuary" in 1844 to "make the atonement" (or to "complete
the atonement," or to "inaugurate a second phase of his ministry"). (Of course,
this ignores what Hebrews has to say about Jesus entering "within the veil"
"once for all" at his ascension.)
Daniel 7: Four beasts--and another little horn
But let's stay with Daniel, and for the moment we will leave chapter 8 and
look at the previous chapter, Daniel 7. Here Daniel gets a different vision
of beasts: a winged lion, a bear, a four-headed leopard, and a horrible monster
with ten horns.
Let's work backwards: out of this ten-horned monster comes a little horn
which does nasty things and to which judgment is meted out. He persecutes,
he changes times and laws. He does it for "a year, two years, and a
half-year"--1260 days, 3 1/2 years, 42 months (as variously used in apocalyptic).
A short time, in any event; but Adventists turn it into 1260 years, and extend
it from 538 to 1798, beginning with the eradication of Arianism and reaching
to the capture of a pope by Napoleon's general Berthier.
The immediately preceding beast (or empire) is a leopard with four heads;
Adventists link these four heads with the four Greek horns of Dan 8 and say
this is Greece, and thus the nasty beast is Rome. But take a quick look at
the end of Daniel 10 and beginning of Daniel 11--the key event here is the
transition from Persia to Greece. 11:2:
"Three kings of Persia are yet to come; and a fourth shall acquire the greatest
riches of all. Strengthened by his riches, he shall rouse all the kingdom
of Greece. But a powerful king shall appear and rule with great might, doing
as he pleases (Alexander). No sooner shall he appear than his kingdom shall
be broken and divided in the four directions under heaven; but not among
his descendants or in keeping with his mighty rule, for his kingdom shall
be torn to pieces and belong to others than they."
Then it starts talking about the King of the North and the King of the South--the
Hellenistic dynasties of Syria and Egypt between whom Israel will be caught.
Daniel 11:21 tells of a "despicable person" who will come to power, and he
will do nasty things, and he will attack the sanctuary and defile it, and
will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the horrible abomination (v.
31); he will utter blasphemies (v. 36). At that time, Michael will arise,
and there will be a terrible time, and there will be great judgment. Thus
Daniel 10-11 is a replay of the same historical scenario as in Daniel 8.
And so is Daniel 7.
The four-heads of the leopard are not the four Greek divisions of Daniel
8, but the four Persian kings of Daniel 11 that are said to be significant,
and upon whom the time-table of chapter 11 rests. In 7, 8, 11 we have three
iterations, with different symbols, of the same reality. The nasty beast
of Daniel 7 is Greece, and the Leopard is Persia. This beast vision is said
to have been given in the time of Belshazzer of Babylon (7:1)...the last
king, who was overthrown by Darius the Mede (6:1). The lion can thus be
identified as Babylon, the bear as Media, the leopard as Persia, the monster
In summary, now, what message is the prophet, Daniel, given? He's living
at end of Babylonian power (as the narrative supposes), and he sees what
is going to happen: Medes, Persians, and Greeks are going to successively
hold sway in the Middle East. The climactic point of the narrative is a Greek
king who is going to overthrow the temple, stop the sacrifices, wreak havoc
on the Jewish people, but then God will judge and all will be well.
Let's now turn to another book of the Bible--1 Maccabees. It is a book that
is not in Protestant Bibles, unless they have a separate section called
"Apocrypha"; but it relates history that is essential to understanding Daniel.
It begins by speaking of Alexander, who defeats the Persians and Medes, and
who then is followed not by his sons, but by his officers. They put on royal
crowns, and so did their sons after them for many years. "There sprang from
these a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes . . . He became king in the
year one hundred and thirty-seven of the kingdom of the Greeks." [Daniel
1:10, NAB] Some of the Jews were enticed by Hellenistic culture; they
went to Antiochus and made an alliance. They built a gymnasium in Jerusalem
and competed in Greek games; they even tried to remove the marks of circumcision,
so they would look like Greek athletes.
But Antiochus turns on his Jewish allies; after invading Egypt, he attacked
Jerusalem, (1:20), and "insolently invaded the sanctuary...Taking all this
[temple treasures] he went back to his own country, after he had spoken with
great arrogance and shed much blood." Two years later he returned, and laid
siege to the city. "Her sanctuary was as desolate as a wilderness; her feasts
were turned into mourning, her sabbaths to shame, her honor to contempt."
(1:39ff) He prohibited the sacrifices (v. 45), "desecrated the sanctuary"
and built pagan altars on which he sacrificed unclean animals. And then "the
king erected the horrible abomination upon the altar of holocausts"--a statue
The actions of Antiochus sparked a revolt led by Judas Maccabeus and his
brothers; they defeat the Greeks, and purify the sanctuary and rededicate
it in a festival lasting 8 days (4:56)--an event celebrated by Jews as the
feast of the Dedication, or Hanukkah.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that this is what Daniel is talking about.
It is one of the climactic events in Jewish history--remembered by Jews (at
Hanukkah), and by Catholics (since we have Maccabees in the Bible), but forgotten
by many Protestants (one of the hazards of having a shortened Scripture--you
don't know some basic history).
This is the interpretation that any mainstream commentary on Daniel is going
"B-b-b-b-b-but," says the Adventist, "that kind of shortens history! Interpreting
Daniel in this way has the judgment in 164 BC."
Yes. That's when "Daniel" saw it coming.
Let's look a little more closely at the book of Daniel. According to the
story told in the book bearing his name, he lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar,
and was taken captive to Babylon (606), and lived until the overthrow of
the Babylonians by the Persians (536). The book bearing his name is an odd
one, however. The first 6 chapters are stories of Daniel in Babylon (the
fiery furnace, the lions den, etc.). Chapters 7-12 are apocalyptic, full
of the bizarre imagery of beasts and times and winds and horns and angels
and judgment. Daniel 2:4b through the end of chapter 7 is in Aramaic; the
rest of the book is in Hebrew. And this overlaps the subject matter--and
this is present even in manuscripts of Daniel found at Qumran (I'm referring
now to the Harper's Bible Commentary). There are some sections that
are found only in Greek manuscripts of Daniel, and these appear in the Protestant
apocrypha as "additions to Daniel," but are incorporated into the text itself
in Catholic Bibles.
Most scholars think Daniel was written around 167 BC--incorporating older
materials that had been handed down since the Babylonian captivity, but adding
to this the new apocalyptic worldview centered on a cosmic clash of good
and evil (a worldview rooted in the dualism of Persian Zoroastrianism). The
writer takes the old material about this prophet who faced a test under Babylon
to encourage Israel as it faced another great test. In chapter 11 (going
back to the source I mentioned above) the writer doesn't quite get the end
of Antiochus right--and this is why scholars suggest it was written before
This late dating also explains the use of the literary motif of "sealing
the book until the time of the end." People would have asked, "Where'd this
come from? How come if Daniel wrote this we didn't know about it till now?"
Well, came the answer, it was sealed until the "time of the end," when it
would be needed.
So, is the Pope in Daniel?
Knowing the history, looking at the text, interpreting it using just the
clues within the book itself--all this shows what a silly question that is.
But if this isnt about the pope, then what meaning does it have
New Testament use of Daniel
The approach to Biblical apocalyptic that Ive sketched here is pivotal
for our interpretation of New Testament apocalyptic as well, for key passages
in the New Testament are grounded in the imagery and events depicted in Daniel.
To summarize what's been said so far: Daniel was written at the time of crisis
facing Israel during the reign of the Greek king of Syria, Antiochus IV
Epiphanes. The book takes traditional material of stories of Daniel in Babylon
and adds apocalyptic material (7-12) to apply the lesson of faithful Daniel
to Jews of the 2nd century BC. Daniel 7, 8, 11 all outline history from the
day of the "historical" Daniel to the time of the writer, all pointing to
this great crisis and God's coming judgment. The Jews revolted, and were
successful in ousting the "abomination of desolation"--they celebrate this
event as "The Feast of the Dedication," or Hanukkah. 1 Maccabees tells the
Did Jesus know the story? Of course. All Jews did, as it is one of the major
events of Biblical history. We even read of Jesus going to Jerusalem to celebrate
the feast (John 10:22).
Jesus uses the story in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21. In each case, the
foundational text is Daniel 11:31:
Armed forces shall move at his [the King of the North/little horn from
Greek beast] command and defile the sanctuary stronghold, abolishing
the daily sacrifice and setting up the horrible abomination. By his deceit
he shall make some who were disloyal to the covenant apostatize; but those
who remain loyal to their God shall take strong action.
Mark 13 is the earliest version of Jesus' use of the text. He tells the disciples
of the coming destruction of the temple. He says, (v. 14) "When you see the
desolating abomination standing where he should not (let the reader understand),
then those in Judea must flee to the mountains." Then all sorts of horrors
will happen, and the end will come.
Matthew 24 gives us a little more (v. 15): "When you see the desolating
abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the
holy place (let the reader understand), then" flee. All sorts of terrible
things will happen, and the end will come.
Luke 21 is blunt (v. 20): "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know
that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.
Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside
not enter the city, for these days are the time of punishment when all the
scriptures are fulfilled."
Clearly, in each case Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem in
70AD by the Roman armies. He takes the previous destructions/desecrations
as the model. And like Daniel's tale of the Greek desecration, Jesus sees
this desecration as bringing on the final crisis of human history--at
least in Mark and Matthew, for Luke seems to allow that some time will pass
after the destruction of Jerusalem, and his reference to Jerusalem being
surrounded by armies is the least ambiguous.
Apocalyptic does not give us rigid timetables depicting thousands of years
of future history at a glance; it is a much more flexible medium. It sees
the present crisis--whatever that crisis may be--as a crisis of cosmic
significance. It sees the final judgment in God's resolution of this crisis.
It calls upon the believer to make a decision, to choose a side. As in the
Maccabean crisis, so in the first century, Jerusalem authorities had brought
the crisis on themselves by making overtures to the oppressor. It seemed
expedient to ally with Greece, and then with Rome ("better that one man die
than the people perish"). And the punishment that comes on the city when
the oppressor turns on the city to destroy it is God's punishment upon the
pragmatists; the deliverance that follows is God's vindication of the faithful.
Now look at Revelation 17. Here we see a woman, a prostitute, named Babylon,
drunk with the blood of martyrs. She sits on a beast with seven heads and
ten horns--the seven heads are seven hills. But the beast turns on the woman:
"The ten horns that you saw and the beast will hate the harlot; they will
leave her desolate and naked; they will eat her flesh and consume her with
fire." A message is given, "Come out of her, that you do not take part in
her sins and receive a share in her plagues" (Rev. 18:4); then she is suddenly
destroyed, and the smoke is seen from afar.
The imagery here is fluid--one's mind is drawn to many things. Note the
similarities to Daniel and the Gospels. It is easy to see in in this passage
a description of the destruction of Jerusalem (harlot) by the beast she rode
on (Rome); and the call of the people to flee to avoid the punishment ("Come
out"). Revelation builds on the Gospels, which build on Daniel. Yet not all
the details fit so nicely. Rome and Jerusalem and Greece blend together with
Babylon--the historic oppressors of God's people together with the pragmatists
(prostitutes) who made unsavory deals to protect their own hide. In the
historical context in which John wrote, some Christians were tempted to make
deals with pagan Roman culture, taking prominent positions in society in
Asia Minor, going along with the imperial cult, compromising with Judaizers.
John, like Jesus and like "Daniel" says NO to any compromise with any pragmatic
or idolatrous power. "Worship God!" not the state, not pragmatism, not your
Now we have to deal with the fact that THE END did not come with the overthrow
of Antiochus, or the destruction of Jerusalem, or with the crisis in Asia
Minor at the end of the first century. The mistake of the sectarian is to
say, "Well, that's because there's a secret timeline involved, and they were
really talking about the 20th century." No. They were talking about their
own day. They were seeing their own day as the day of decision, the day of
conflict, the day of crisis.
So must we.
We should be informed by the imagery, and be free to apply it to all situations
of compromise and oppression.
Yes, we can see Hitler as an antichrist as a Russian Orthodox believer once
insisted to me--but we must also (unlike this zealous Russian)
say the same of Stalin. And the warning against harlotry can apply to those
who tried to appease Hitler, and to those Orthodox Bishops who thought they
could cooperate with Stalin (or Yeltsin or the right wing Russian nationalists).
We can see Reagan and the El Salvadoran military as beasts, and the church
leaders who compromised with them, and the Religious Right that joined the
battle against "communism" as our American version of "harlots."
The moment we say, "This only applied then" or "This will only apply in the
future," we close our eyes to the beasts around us, and compromise, and play
games, and make deals with the devil that will destroy us.
Seventh-day Adventists were so obsessed with Sunday laws that they didn't
protest when Adventist conscientious objectors were guinea pigs for US germ
warfare experiments. They didn't say a word when Vladimir Sholkov was imprisoned
by the Soviets for his faith. They thus lost great opportunities to speak
prophetically to the world, and became harlots themselves making pacts with
the devil. It can happen to anyone--the point of the warnings is to keep
it from happening to us.