Why the Little Horn of Daniel 8 Must Be Antiochus Epiphanes
Editor’s note: Part of Adventist Today’s mission is as a forum for controversial topics, including historical points of theology. The identification of the little horn of Daniel 8 has been a topic of interest to Seventh-day Adventists all the way back to the 1840s. The point of view expressed here is not necessarily that of Adventist Today or its editors, and is presented a topic for your understanding and discussion. The author offers a longer and more detailed statement of this position.
By Winston McHarg | 14 January 2018 |
In 1978 I made the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. In spite of my love for my church, my work, my family and friends, I felt compelled by conscience to withdraw from the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church. The main reason I took this traumatic, heart-wrenching step was that I had come to disbelieve my church’s fundamental doctrine of a pre-advent investigative judgment.
What follows constitutes one of my main objections to the investigative judgment teaching:
The Adventist teaching of an investigative judgment of the professed people of God is foreign to the context of Daniel 8.
According to the traditional Adventist position the “cleansing of the sanctuary” of Daniel 8:14 is an investigative judgment of the professed people of God. A study of the context of this verse reveals that this unusual interpretation finds no support in this chapter.
The symbolism of Daniel 8 centers in the notorious little horn which is described as performing a number of horrific acts. Among other things he is said to take away the daily sacrifices, pollute the sanctuary and persecute the people of God. After witnessing these terrible events in vision Daniel hears two angelic beings speaking to each other. One asks the question, “For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgressing that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and the host to be trampled under foot?” (v. 13). In verse 14—the answer to this question—the other angel replies, “Unto 2300 days then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (K.J.V.). It is clear, then, that the “cleansing of the sanctuary” must involve the destruction of the little horn and the restoration of the sanctuary. The Adventist interpretation totally ignores this context and switches to the theme of an investigation of the professed people of God. This exegesis fails to answer the question of verse 13 and is completely irrelevant to the context of the entire chapter. There is however a simple, straightforward and convincing alternative.
Modern Bible commentators are almost unanimous in seeing the Greek king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, as the fulfillment of the little horn of Daniel, chapter 8. Antiochus Epiphanes was an erratic megalomaniac who made it his express purpose to eliminate the religion of Jehovah from the face of the earth. The history of this evil madman is graphically outlined in the two intertestamental books of Maccabees, which describe a horrific period of desecration and bloodshed during the years 171-165 BC.
During this terrible period of approximately 2300 days, Antiochus attempted to impose Greek customs upon the Jewish people. Along with many other terrible outrages he banned the continual sacrifices, desecrated the temple by installing a pagan image, poured swine’s broth around the temple and tortured and murdered thousands who refused to abandon their faith. Never before had there been such a blatant, foul and arrogant attempt to totally wipe out the faith of Israel.
The well-known scholar, William Barclay, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, details some of the horror of this time:
“Eighty thousand Jews were either slaughtered or sold into slavery. To circumcise a child or to possess a copy of the Law was a crime punishable by death. History has seldom, or never, seen so deliberate attempt to wipe out the faith and religion of a whole people. He desecrated the Temple. He erected an altar to Olympian Zeus in the Holy Place, and on it he sacrificed swine’s flesh; and he turned the rooms of the Temple into public brothels… To the Jews Antiochus was the incarnation of all evil; he is the blasphemous little horn of Daniel; he is the nearest approach to Antichrist in human form.”
The tyrant’s reign of terror was brought to a totally unexpected end when the pious Judas Maccabaeus, and his sons, rallied the faithful, and incredibly routed the Greek army! It was three years to the day, after the installation of the pagan image, that the sanctuary was cleansed and rededicated. This joyful event was henceforth remembered by the feast of Hanukkah, which was observed in the time of Christ (John 10:22) and continues to be celebrated by Jews today. This stirring story is about to be exploited by Hollywood. Mel Gibson is rumoured to be considering making a film recounting these incredible events.
To me, and to most other commentators, the fulfillment of the little horn of Daniel 8 in Antiochus Epiphanes is crystal clear. However, the Seventh-day Adventist church, from its very beginning, has vigorously disagreed with this interpretation. According to the official understanding of the church, the horn is a symbol of both the Roman Empire and the Roman church. This understanding is important to the Adventist church because it is foundational to their centre-piece doctrine of the investigative judgment—which the church believes is one of the special truths that God has commissioned it to proclaim to the world.
Without questioning the sincerity and earnestness of my many friends in Adventism, I believe there are many convincing reasons why the little horn of Daniel 8 must be Antiochus. Here are some of them:
1. The little horn of Daniel 8 is a Greek horn. Unlike the little horn of Daniel 7, which emerges from the Roman beast, this horn is said to emerge from one of the four horns upon the Greek beast. It is crystal clear: while the horn of Daniel 7 emerges from the fourth world empire, the horn of Daniel 8 emerges from the third world empire. This fact is so plain and transparent that one can only wonder why some have overlooked it.
2. One of the first things that the angelic interpretation says about the little horn is that he is “…a king of fierce countenance…” (v. 23). According to the traditional Adventist view the horn represents a kingdom, namely the Roman Empire. It is hard to see how a kingdom could have “a fierce countenance” and “understand dark sentences.” The angelic interpretation allows no misunderstanding.
3. This king emerges from one of the fourfold divisions of the Greek Empire. “Out of one of them came forth a little horn…” (v. 9). Antiochus emerged from the Seleucid horn which was a division of the Greek Empire. Rome did not; it emerged on the Italian peninsula to the west of the Greek Empire.
4. The horn would arise “in the latter time” of the fourfold division, which pictures well Antiochus’s emergence. The fourfold division of Greece had passed the peak of its power when he emerged, and this is evidenced by the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the Romans while on his way to invade Egypt.
5. The horn would attack the south and east and the pleasant land i.e. Palestine. Antiochus did exactly that. However, when Rome came to power, it expanded in all directions including west to Britain and north to the germanic tribes. This little horn is clearly not Rome.
6. The horn would be noted for his cunning and intrigue. He would “understand dark sentences” and “cause craft to prosper” (v.25). Antiochus was renowned for his craftiness and cunning; Rome more for her brute strength and power.
7. The horn would destroy the mighty and holy people. History reveals that tens of thousands perished as Antiochus attempted to force the Jews to deny their faith.
8. The horn would take away the daily sacrifices (v. 11). Antiochus put a stop to the sacrifices for a period of over 3 years.
9. Antiochus “cast down” the place of God’s sanctuary (v. 11) when he shut down its daily ministry and set up the abomination that caused horror, i.e. the image of Zeus Olympias, and slaughtered swine on the altar of burnt offering. The importance of the sanctuary service lay not so much in the building as in the daily sacrifices and offerings, and by taking these away Antiochus “brought low” (NIV) God’s dwelling place.
10. Antiochus continued for approximately (possibly precisely, it is impossible to determine) 2300 days (v. 14) i.e. from the first attacks upon the sanctuary to his death in 164 BC. One of the world’s leading conservative scholars stated, “In this year (i.e. 171BC) began the laying waste of the sanctuary. The termination would then be the death of Antiochus (164BC).”
There is no convincing fulfilment of the 2300 days in the history of the Roman Empire and only by a fine-spun linking of the Roman Empire with the Roman church, and a further fine-spun linking of Daniel 8 with Daniel 9 (these two chapters are historically separated by at least 10 years) can Seventh-day Adventists arrive at a closing date for the 2300 days. This date is October 22, 1844 when Christ is said to have shifted his ministry from the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary into the second to begin a work of judgment.
11. In his desecration of the sanctuary and his persecution of true believers, Antiochus did “practice and prosper” and “was exceeding great” (v.9 & v. 12).
One of the major objections to Antiochus as the fulfillment of the prophecy is the fact that he was a relatively minor player on the stage of history. It is sometimes asserted he is not big enough to fulfill the prophecy. This objection fails to take into account the simple fact that this particular prophecy centers primarily on the fate of the people and religion of God. The great theme of this vision is an unprecedented and successful attack upon the saints and true worship. It is IN THIS SENSE that Antiochus practices and prospers and becomes exceeding great.
Another important point is that there is much to imply that more than Antiochus alone is portrayed here. Almost all conservative scholars agree that Daniel 8 portrays Antiochus as a type of the final antichrist. Many believe that the prophecy will have a further, fuller and final fulfillment in the future.
12. That Antiochus is the little horn of Daniel 8 is convincingly confirmed by a comparison with the final vision of chapter 11. This final vision covers much the same ground as chapter 8. Various Persian and Grecian kings, including Alexander the Great, are referred to, but all are dealt with briefly in just one or two verses. As the vision moves towards its climax, Antiochus is once again centre stage, and no less than fifteen full verses are devoted to him (see 11:21-35). Antiochus is clearly no minor player in this vision. There then follows an almost imperceptible blending of Antiochus with the one whom most conservative scholars consider to be the final manifestation of evil (see v. 36 onwards). It is clear, then, that this Old Testament tyrant, in his overt and unbridled opposition to the true God, his truth and his people, is a remarkable and fitting type of the even more horrifying figure of the antichrist to come.
The vision of Daniel 8 is probably the clearest in the whole book hence the almost universal agreement by both conservative and liberal scholars on the meaning of the symbols. Almost all are agreed that in Antiochus Epiphanes we find a natural, straightforward and convincing fulfilment of the horn who desecrates the sanctuary.
In contrast to the above, the traditional Seventh-day Adventist position wrestles against the most obvious meaning of the passage. Its assertion that the Roman Empire emerges from one of the Greek horns fatally flaws this interpretation from the very beginning. If you take the wrong path at the commencement of your journey, you can expect to arrive in the wrong place. I suspect that if this interpretation had not been confirmed by ‘divine inspiration’ it would have eventually died a natural death, as it did in the other Adventist groups that survived the disappointment of 1844.
Winston McHarg graduated in 1969 from Avondale College with a Bachelors degree in Theology and worked as an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist church. He pastored churches in Australia and New Zealand before resigning from the ministry in 1978 due to his disagreement with the Investigative Judgment doctrine. He retrained and ran a successful furniture business for 30 years before retiring. He and his wife Ruth attend their local Adventist church where they continue to enjoy fellowship with their many Adventist friends and relatives.