Much of the confusion arising among Bible-students in regard to New Testament prophecy comes from a lack of grounding in Old Testament prophetic texts. In order to understand eschatology aright, we must be conversant in the Old Testament prophets, for many of the New Testament predictions contain direct references to prophecies concerning Israel.
In my own studies, I’ve come across several “keys” which help unlock difficult passages in the New Testament. One great truth I’ve found is that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was a type of Antichrist. In fact, many of the references to himself throughout the Old Testament will have a perfect fulfillment in the person of “the man of sin” foretold by Paul in 2 Thessalonians, and by John in the Apocalypse.
The Old Testament prophets sometimes used Babylon as a figure to denote the “fourth kingdom,” which will have dominion over the earth when Christ comes to establish His divine rule among men (Dan. 7: 23). Viewed in chronological sequence, the fourth kingdom of Daniel is not Rome, as some mistakenly assume, but the Syro-Grecian empire of Antiochus Epiphanes, who was also a type of Antichrist.
Search the prophet Daniel carefully, and you’ll discover that the most important “tribulation passages” are founded on the persecution that Antiochus waged against the Jews. There are clear references to Antiochus in Daniel 8: 9-12, as well as in Daniel 11: 21-45. Notice that it was Antiochus who set up the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11: 31; cf. Dan. 12: 11) to which Christ referred as a future event. From this we may conclude that Antiochus was a type of the Antichrist who is yet to come.
Despite, however, many parallels between Antiochus Epiphanes and Paul’s “man of sin,” Nebuchadnezar is, I think, the truest type of Antichrist. In his time, the kingdom of Babylon held sway over the entire earth. Jeremiah was told that all nations would serve the king of Babylon, and come under his rule (Jer. 27: 4-7). In John’s Apocalypse we find that power is given Antichrist over all “kindreds and tongues and nations” (Rev. 13:7). See also Daniel 4: 10-12, 20-22.
Then, too, there is the image which Antichrist would set up in the temple of God. An allusion to this may be found in Daniel 3: 4-6, where Nebuchadnezzar ordered all who refused to worship his image to be cast alive into the fiery furnace. Compare with Revelation 13: 15.
It appears that “mystery Bablylon,” the feet of the image which Daniel saw (Dan. 2: 39 ff), is the true antitype of the kingdom of Babylon represented by the golden head of the image. The image itself calls to mind the antichristian powers which would hold dominion over the earth. The identity of the fourth kingdom is not the Syro-Grecian empire, which would be the case were we to view the kingdoms in mere chronological order, but the antitypical kingdom of Babylon.
It is this kingdom which shall bear rule during the last three-and-a-half years before the second advent of Jesus Christ. This three-and-a-half year period does not refer to the Jewish war of A.D. 67-70, but to a future period of time after the Jews are gathered back to their own land. The closing verses of Daniel 11, while containing much that is enigmatic, hint at the political complications of this period, during which Antichrist will “plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain” (Dan. 11: 45).
This verse is parallel to Isaiah 14: 13-14, in which the “King of Bablyon” is described as “sitting upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north.” That is, he will be seated in Jerusalem in the temple of God, demanding divine honors when the Lord returns with His saints to execute judgment and justice in the earth. This will be the fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-8.
But notice that Daniel 12 is a continuation of the discourse of Daniel 11. The angel tells Daniel that “at that time” (when Antichrist seats himself in the temple, boasting himself that he is God), there shall be “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (Dan. 12: 1). This is the event which our Lord calls a “great tribulation” (Matthew 24: 21). It represents the 1260 day persecution of Antichrist; the “time, times, and a half” of the prophet (Dan. 12: 7).
This tribulation is spoken of by Jeremiah as “Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30: 6-9). It will issue in the salvation of Israel & the coming of Jesus Christ to reign over the earth. In fact, the destruction of Babylon is referred to by Jeremiah as the period when Israel’s atonement will be completed (Jer. 50: 18-20). The downfall of Babylon is also identified as the “time of harvest” (Jer. 51: 33). Compare this inspired prediction with Revelation 14, in which the harvest of the earth takes place with the downfall of Babylon (Rev. 14: 8). While the prophets said many things regarding Nebuchadnezzar, the great bulk of their predictions refer to Antichrist and his kingdom.
So, when Antichrist causes the sacrifice and oblation to cease, and demands divine honors, that is the sign and signal by which the Jews who are left in Jerusalem are bidden to flee (Matt. 24: 14-18). For then the last half of Daniel’s week will commence, the “time of trouble” being “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
No serious student of prophecy would maintain that this was fulfilled in the Jewish War of A.D. 67-70. For there was no personal “antichrist” from which to flee, nor were the Jews ever converted and re-established in their own land. Nor was there any resurrection of the dead (Dan. 12: 2). Nor was there any cessation of the persecutions wrought upon the church by Rome, which would have occurred had Christ come at that time (Dan. 7: 27).
The mistake comes from a faulty interpetation of Matthew 24: 34. The phrase “this generation” does not mean ‘the people now living on the earth,’ but “The Jews.” See Deuteronomy 32: 5, 20; Jeremiah 2: 31, 7: 29; Acts 2: 40. It is an undeniable fact, that whenever Christ used the phrase “this generation,” it always carried a distinctly Jewish reference. When He alludes to “this generation” not passing away, He is referring to Jeremiah 31: 35-36, in which the Jewish nation is declared co-extensive with the “heavens and earth” (cf. Matt. 24: 35).
Ezekiel also makes mention of the times of Antichrist in his prophecies regarding Tyre and Zidon (Ezekiel 28). Note that after the persecuting power is destroyed, Israel shall be sanctified in the sight of the heathen and regathered into their own land. “And they shall dwell safely therein, and shall build houses, and plant vineyards; yea, they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed judgments upon all those that despise them round about them; and they shall know that I am the Lord their God” (Ezek. 28: 26).
What else, then, does the downfall of Daniel’s “fourth kingdom” imply but the cessation of all persecuting power and the establishment of the worldwide kingdom of God? I think if we study these matters in greater depth, we’ll agree that there must come a time when things get worse before they become better. But they will get better; and it is that which makes Christ’s second coming our “blessed hope” (Titus 2: 13). Paying heed to the signs of the times is needful in all events. And there is nothing better that can help us in this department than a closer study of the Old Testament prophets.