The prophetic visions recorded in the book of Daniel are of a different nature than most prophetic messages delivered by other Old Testament prophets. Daniel’s prophecies belong to the category of apocalyptic prophecy, whereas most of the other Old Testament prophecies belong to the category of classical prophecy. An understanding of the basic difference between these prophetic genres is crucial for a correct understanding of biblical prophecy.
- Apocalyptic prophecies display some peculiar features that differentiate them from the so-called classical prophecies:
- Visions and dreams. In apocalyptic prophecy God uses mainly dreams and visions to convey His message to the prophet. In classical prophecy, the prophet receives “the Word of the Lord”, — which can include visions — an expression that occurs with slight variations about 1600 times in the classical prophets.
- Composite symbolism. While in classical prophecy there is a limited amount of symbolism, mainly involving symbols that are true to life; in apocalyptic prophecy God shows symbols and imagery beyond the world of human reality, such as hybrid animals or monsters with wings and horns.
- Divine sovereignty and unconditionality. In contrast to classical prophecies, whose fulfillment is often dependent on human response in the context of God’s covenant with Israel, apocalyptic prophecies are unconditional. In apocalyptic prophecy God reveals the rise and fall of world empires from Daniel’s day to the end of time. This kind of prophecy rests on God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty and will happen regardless of human choices.
Knowing about broad prophetic genres such as classical and apocalyptic prophecy can be of great benefit. First, these genres show that God uses a variety of approaches to communicate prophetic truth (Heb. 1:1). Second, such knowledge helps us better appreciate the beauty and complexity of the Bible. Third, this knowledge also helps us to interpret biblical prophecies in ways that are consistent with the testimony of the entire Bible and rightly explain “the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
On the basis of passages such as Hosea 3:4, 5; Amos 8:11; and Zechariah 9:1; some Christians today expect the final events of world history to unfold in the Middle East. What is wrong with this interpretation? How can knowing the difference between apocalyptic and classical prophecies help us clarify this matter?