Joel Richardson’s Use of Daniel in Arguing for an Islamic Antichrist
First, let me just say that I rather like Joel Richardson. He is articulate and passionate and he has been a voice for biblical truth in the public arena recently, all of which I appreciate very much. Second, to all appearances (I don’t know him personally), Richardson is a faithful Christian with a heart for reaching out to the Muslim people. I strongly encourage you to check out his website. Third, while I disagree here with his treatment of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, I do not necessarily disagree with his main point; that is, I remain open to the possibility that the coming Antichrist will come from an Islamic nation. I think this is a valid possibility, though I don’t find it any more convincing at this point than any number of other speculations. My concern here is only with Richardson’s use of the book of Daniel to argue his larger point.
Joel Richardson’s theory that the coming Antichrist will be an Islamic ruler has been stirring up all kinds of interest in the evangelical Christian world recently. I’ve had several conversations, emails and comments on our website about Richardson’s books, especially in light of an article I published recently arguing that the 4th kingdom of Dan. 2, the 4th beast of Dan. 7 and the goat of Dan. 8 are all referring to Alexander the Great’s Greek empire.
If it is the case that these three prophetic descriptions are all focused on the Greek empire – and I believe that the biblical evidence for this is quite substantial – then it would be a significant mistake to infer from Daniel specific statements about the nature and circumstances of the coming Antichrist. However, Richardson’s arguments depend in part on reading Daniel in precisely the way I am saying they cannot be read.
If the portions of Daniel which are being taken as predictions of the coming Antichrist were actually describing the Greek empire (or even the Roman), then these prophecies were giving specific details about events that were fulfilled before Jesus’ birth rather than about events that are still to come in our future. This does not necessarily mean that Daniel has nothing at all to say about “end times.” I am not arguing for what is called, in technical terms, a strictly preterist interpretation. On the contrary, I believe that many prophesied events from the Bible – and from the book of Revelation particularly – have not yet come to pass. But I do not think that the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation are necessarily speaking of precisely the same events, in spite of the fact that the book of Revelation uses a fair amount of language that is quite similar to that of Daniel.
It is my belief that when the book of Revelation uses similar language to that found in Daniel it is not referring to precisely the same prophesied events but rather to prophetic patterns that recur at significant points in history; that is, when Daniel foresaw coming events in which the enemies of God’s people did certain kinds of things, he was foreseeing real events that happened over the next few centuries but which were completed (or mostly completed) by the time of the coming of Christ. However, several of these events followed a certain pattern that will be repeated again before Christ’s return. Therefore, knowing that these patterns would be repeated, the book of Revelation borrows language from Daniel not because it is describing precisely the same events but because it is saying that the same sorts of things which preceded the first coming of Christ will also happen before his second coming.
Richardson, on the other hand, along with many other Christian teachers like him, believes that much or even most of Daniel is directly describing historical events that are still in the future even from our perspective; that is, most of Daniel has not yet been fulfilled and will only be fulfilled in the “end times” before Jesus returns. In Richardson’s opinion, Daniel and Revelation use similar language because they are describing precisely the same events…events which have not yet happened. Operating from this perspective, Richard interprets much of the book of Daniel in light of the book of Revelation. For instance, he interjects the language of “Antichrist” back into Daniel, though the book of Daniel never uses that term or any other term with a similar meaning. While it is possible that Daniel was describing the Antichrist, it is also just as possible that he was describing an individual who arrived on the scene before Jesus and acted in certain ways that the coming Antichrist will later emulate. It is my considered opinion that what Daniel predicted about this individual was clearly fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes. As I have detailed in my recent article on the kingdom prophecies in Daniel, the internal and external evidence most strongly supports the interpretation which identifies Daniel’s 4th kingdom as Alexander the Great’s empire…an empire which fragmented into four factions, multiple kings and even a North and South kingdom (Dan 11). One of these kings that emerged from the divided kingdom was Antiochus Ephiphanes, whom Daniel describes as the blasphemous “little horn” (Dan 7 & 8). Again, however, it is quite likely that the coming Antichrist will act in similar ways, which is precisely why Revelation borrows much of Daniel’s language when speaking of the Antichrist.
To read Daniel’s predictions as being almost entirely focused on the still-to-come Antichrist rather than on Antiochus Epiphanes does two things.:
First, it removes our ability to affirm the clearly miraculous nature of Daniel’s prophecy. The details Daniel gives which were fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes are numerous and precise. The fact that Daniel wrote these details several centuries before the events he described is very strong evidence of the divine inspiration of the book of Daniel. On the other hand, if these details are understood to be pointing only to the coming Antichrist, then we lose our ability to offer such evidence because, in point of fact, very few of Daniel’s most specific prophecies have actually been fulfilled yet.
Second, reading Daniel in this way fosters what I believe to be an improper –and ultimately dangerous – hermeneutic. The arguments I have advanced in my previous article are based first on careful reading of Daniel in its entirety along with consideration of its cultural context and only secondarily checked against the historical events that interpretation seemed to be pointing to. The arguments Richardson advances appear to be based on reading a series of theological assumptions and modern events back into the biblical text. While I respect much of Richardson’s work, I do believe in this respect he must be challenged.
To be fair, Richardson is no theological maverick for approaching Daniel in this particular way. The belief that much or even most of Daniel’s prophetic material has not yet been fulfilled has been a relatively popular interpretation in certain Christian circles for at least a hundred years now. And let me be perfectly clear: this belief is not without biblical foundation. I am not suggesting at all that this point of view cannot be show to have some support from Scripture. However, I do not think that any interpretation which finds in Daniel detailed prophecies about the coming Antichrist – while ignoring its literal fulfillment in the centuries between its composition and the first coming of Christ – is able to stand up under careful scrutiny. For those kinds of details we must turn to the book of Revelation.
I don’t have any serious objection to much of what Richardson says in his books. I object to his use of Daniel to support his point about an Islamic Antichrist, but I am not inherently opposed to or even doubtful about his theories in general. And, to be fair, there is much in his books that I find quite laudable. Of particular note, the section called “Formulating Our Method of Interpretation” in his book, Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist, is a very reasonable and balanced approach to prophetic interpretation. He is to be commended for it.
However, as numerous conservative scholars have demonstrated and as my own recent article Rome or Greece: Interpreting the Fourth Kingdom in Daniel 2 indicates, there is considerable objective biblical evidence which cannot be reconciled with Richardson’s interpretations of the material in Daniel. While this by no means proves that Richardson’s theory about an Islamic Antichrist is false, it does seriously undermine a significant plank in his argument, leaving the burden of proof to rest all the more heavily on the other parts of his argument.