Another important concept that we need to keep in mind as we study the book of Daniel is the historicist approach to apocalyptic prophecies. This approach, also known as historicism, can be better understood if compared with the opposing views of preterism, futurism, and idealism.
- Preterism tends to view the prophetic events announced in Daniel as having occurred in the past.
- Futurism contends that the same prophecies still await a future fulfillment.
- Idealism, in turn, holds that apocalyptic prophecies are symbols of general spiritual realities without any specific historical referents.
- Historicism, in contrast, holds that in apocalyptic prophecy God reveals an unbroken sequence of history from the time of the prophet to the end of time. As we study the book of Daniel, we will see that each major vision in the book (Daniel 2, 7, 8, 11) repeats this historical outline from different perspectives and with new details. The Adventist pioneers, including Ellen G. White, understood the biblical prophecies of Daniel and Revelation from a historicist perspective.
As we study the book of Daniel, we should also keep in mind that prophetic time is measured according to the year-day principle. That is, a day in prophecy usually equals one year in actual historical time. Thus, for example, the prophecy of the 2,300 evenings and mornings should be understood as referring to 2,300 years (Dan. 8:14). Likewise, the prophecy of the 70 weeks should be understood to be 490 years (Dan. 9:24-27).
This time scale seems to be correct for some obvious reasons: (1) Since the visions are symbolic, the times indicated must also be symbolic. (2) As the events depicted in the visions unfold over long periods of time, even to the “time of the end” in some cases, the time spans related to these prophecies should be interpreted accordingly. (3) The year-day principle is confirmed by the book of Daniel. A clear example comes from the 70-week prophecy, which extended from the days of King Artaxerxes to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. So the most obvious and correct way to make sense of the prophetic time periods given in the book of Daniel is to interpret them according to the year-day principle.
Some of these time prophecies cover hundreds, even thousands of years. What should this teach us about patience?