Who was Daniel the prophet? What can we learn about his personal life and the prophecies God revealed to him about the end times ahead of us now?
The biblical account of Daniel the prophet begins as he and other young men from Judah were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Daniel 1:1-4) in approximately 604 B.C. This captivity of citizens of Judah in Babylon lasted for 70 years, as God had foretold through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11).
During this time, Daniel served in prominent positions in the governments of several Babylonian and Medo-Persian rulers, including Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus. In the first year of the reign of Darius, Daniel came to understand, or simply reproved to himself, the prophecy of Jeremiah that predicted a 70-year captivity of his people (Daniel 9:1-2).
A faithful man of God
The book of Daniel shows him to be a faithful man of God. When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to destroy all the wise men if one of them didn’t tell him his dream and interpret it, Daniel and his friends asked for time so he and his three friends could beseech God in prayer to reveal this information (Daniel 2:18). When God answered his prayer, Daniel remembered to praise and thank God for giving them what they had requested (verses 20-23).
Later, Daniel again demonstrated his faith by praying to God even though he knew that doing so would endanger his life! “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed [that no one could petition any god or man except the king for 30 days], he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10).
Daniel’s faithfulness to God landed him in a lion’s den, where his detractors were sure he would be devoured. But God sent an angel that “shut the lions’ mouths” (Daniel 6:22), and Daniel was miraculously spared.
On another occasion the record shows Daniel praying and fasting for his people’s sins and asking for God’s mercy on himself, his fellow captives and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Daniel 9).
The record of Daniel’s righteous conduct is not confined to the book he authored. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, stated: “‘Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,’ says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:14, emphasis added).
Knowledge, skill and understanding from God
God saw these fruits of Daniel and his three friends and gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom. To Daniel, God also gave understanding in all visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17). As a result of God’s blessings upon Daniel and his three friends, the king “found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm” (verse 20).
When King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him in the second year of his reign, God revealed the meaning of the dream to Daniel in a night vision (Daniel 2:19). “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48).
At times, God sent an angel to deliver prophetic messages to Daniel, who then copied them down.
“Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’ So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end’” (Daniel 8:15-17).
Beloved and chosen by God to foretell future events, Daniel the prophet prophesied as moved by God through visions and dreams about what was going to happen throughout history, including what would happen to Daniel’s people in the “latter days” (Daniel 10:14) and to the whole world.
Here are a few of the prominent prophecies given by God through Daniel:
- Four world-ruling empires. In a dream given to King Nebuchadnezzar, God revealed through Daniel that there would be four world-ruling empires (Daniel 2:1-43). Historically, these have proven to be the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian and Roman Empires. Emphasizing the surety of this prophecy, God also gave Daniel a vision in which these empires were represented by four great beasts (Daniel 7:1-3).
- The Kingdom of God. After telling King Nebuchadnezzar that there would be four world-ruling kingdoms, Daniel further prophesied: “And in the days of these kings [during the time of human government] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
In the repetition of the prophecy about human world-ruling empires, Daniel further noted: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
For further study, see our article “What Is the Kingdom of God?”
- A little horn. In God’s vision to Daniel of four beasts, representing four world-ruling kingdoms, the fourth beast “had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7), which we have traditionally understood to represent 10 appearances of this fourth kingdom. Explaining what he had seen, Daniel wrote: “I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words” (verse 8).
This little horn that Daniel in vision saw “making war against the saints, and prevailing against them” (verse 21) is a religious power that will persecute God’s people at the end of this age (verses 24-25). Known by multiple names—the antichrist, the man of sin and the false prophet—this religious power will play a prominent role in the deception of mankind prior to Christ’s return. Additional references to this little horn are found in Daniel 8:9-12, 23-25.
For further study, see the article “Antichrist.”
- The seventy-weeks prophecy. In Daniel 9:24-27 we find a prophecy that predicted the year—A.D. 27—that Jesus would begin His ministry. The prophecy also predicted that Jesus’ ministry to “confirm the covenant” would be cut off “in the middle” of the 70th prophetic week. The biblical record shows that this occurred after 3½ years, just as Daniel had prophesied.
For further study, see “70 Weeks of Daniel: What Does the Prophecy Mean?”
- Abomination of desolation. Chapter 11 covers prophecies that would be fulfilled from the time of the Medo-Persian Empire through the end time. After providing specific details regarding the successive kingdoms, we come to verse 31, where we read of daily sacrifices being taken away and of an “abomination of desolation” that would be placed in the temple. These events, which included a suppression of the truth and a defilement of the temple, took place during the time of the Maccabees and were a type of a future fulfillment that will occur before the return of Christ (Matthew 24:14-15).
For further study, see the article “Abomination of Desolation: What Is It?”
- The time of the end. Beginning in Daniel 11:40, we read of events that will transpire “at the time of the end.” This includes conflict around Jerusalem between “the king of the North” and “the king of the South.” Before concluding his book, Daniel also refers to a severe “time of trouble” (Daniel 12:1), which is referred to as “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21.
Daniel’s prophecies sealed
Even though Daniel prophesied during the early part of the sixth century B.C., his prophecies were sealed until the end time. Similar to the instruction he had received to “seal up” a vision he had been given earlier (Daniel 8:26), Daniel was again told, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4).