We know that much of Daniel’s book is concerned with the time when the Messianic kingdom would be set up. In Daniel 2:31-45, we find a general timeframe within which the coming of the kingdom of God (i.e., the commencement of the Messianic reign) would be fulfilled. There it was prophesied that, during the days of the kings of the fourth world empire in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the God of heaven would set up a kingdom that would “never be destroyed, nor left to another people” (v. 44). This kingdom, we later read, would be that which the Messiah would receive from God (Dan 7:13-14). Now, the kingdom that corresponds to the iron and clay feet and toes of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is the Roman Empire. And according to the NT, it was during the rule of the Roman Caesars that Jesus Christ was born into the world (Luke 2:1; 3:1). We also know from history that the Roman Empire began to decline as a world power by the end of the second century, until it finally lost its civil and political identity as a unified dictatorship by the end of the fifth century. So if the Messianic kingdom of which the book of Daniel spoke was to be “set up” while Rome still possessed its identity as a ruling world empire, we have only a limited “window of opportunity,” so to speak, for the fulfillment of this prophecy. It had to be after the birth of the Messiah, but could not be any later than the end of the reign of the last Roman Caesar.
I submit that Daniel chapter 12 concerns this period as well; we are simply given more details as to the events that would take place at this time. The “awakenings” spoken of in verse 2 are said to take place during a “time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (v. 1). The expression “time of trouble” refers to a divine judgment upon a certain group of people. And the fact that we are told that this “time of trouble” would be unequaled “since there was a nation till that time” seems to indicate that the judgment in view is a national one.
Employing similar hyperbolic language (i.e., exaggeration for emphasis and effect, which was common among the Jewish people), Christ speaks of this “time of trouble” as taking place at the time of the overthrow of the nation of Israel in 70 AD: “For then shall there be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt 24:21; cf. Luke 21:20-23). It is also said that everyone among Daniel’s “people” (i.e., the Jews) whose names were found written in “the book” would be “delivered.” Similarly, Christ told his disciples that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13) and, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:10). During this tumultuous and distressing period in Israel’s history – unparalleled in its severity - only those Jews who believed on Christ (i.e., those who were “written in the book of life”) and heeded his words to flee the surrounding area when the opportune time came (Luke 21:21; cf. Matt 24:15-18) were delivered from the awful judgment that fell upon the nation of Israel at this time.
We are also told that it would take place around the time when the “daily sacrifice” would be “taken away,” and the “abomination that makes desolate” would appear (Daniel 11:31, 12:11; cf. 9:26-27). In Matthew 24 verses 15 and 21, Jesus quotes the book of Daniel and applies this language to those events surrounding the destruction of Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem, when the armies of Rome began to surround the city. In Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse, we read (21:20-21): “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” The “abomination of desolation” refers to the pagan armies of Rome surrounding the city of Jerusalem, bent on its utter destruction (the armies of Rome being anywhere near the Temple would have been considered an “abomination” to the Jewish people; we are even told by Josephus that, after the five month siege, the armies of Rome “breached the wall, burned the temple down and worshiped Caesar at its eastern gate”). This was the sign of the imminent desolation of both the city and temple, and the complete and utter downfall of the Jewish nation.
Finally, we read that the time when all the things of which Gabriel spoke would be “finished” was when the “power of the holy people” would be “shattered” (Dan 12:7). The expression “holy people” is equivalent to “your people” in verse 2, and refers undoubtedly to the Jews. It was at the second and final overthrow of their nation by the Romans in 70 A.D. that their “power” was “shattered” (see Luke 21:24).
A few more indications that the time period in view here is the setting up of the Messianic kingdom at the close of the Jewish dispensation when the nation of Israel was overthrown and the temple destroyed are the angel’s next words to Daniel (vv. 3-4): “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 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.” Jesus alludes to verse 3 in Matthew 13:43 when speaking about events that would take place at the “close of the age” (v. 40) when the kingdom of God (i.e., God’s reign among his New Covenant people) was to be established in the world: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” That this language need not refer to a physical change in the appearance of the righteous at this time is evidenced by what Jesus said earlier, when he told his disciples that they were “the light of the world,” and exhorted them to let their “light shine before others” (Matt 5:14-16). Similarly, Paul told the Philippians that they shone among their evil generation “as lights (or luminaries) in the world” (Phil 2:15). Jesus even called Moses a “burning and shining lamp” who, figuratively speaking, gave off “light” (John 5:35). Those who endured faithful to the end of the age in proclaiming the gospel and making converts to the faith shone as luminaries in a dark and unbelieving world when they were vindicated for their service to Christ with unfading crowns of honor and glory at the time of Christ’s coming to establish his kingdom.
We are further told that “many” would “run to and fro,” and that “knowledge” would “increase.” This increase in “knowledge” to which Gabriel refers is likely not the accumulation of scientific facts, but the spread of the truth of the gospel in the first century among the Jews and Gentiles. That is, the angel is referring to the “knowledge of the truth” by which people are “saved” (1 Tim 2:4; cf. 2 Tim 2:25). The “many” running “to and fro” refers to the apostles and their converts proclaiming the gospel throughout the world at the time leading up to the end of the Old Covenant age (Matt 24:14; Acts 24:5; Rom. 1:8, 10:18; Col. 1:6, 23). It should be noted that the word translated as “world” in these references (oikoumene) does not denote the entire inhabited planet, but simply the domain and territory of the Roman Empire (see Luke 2:1). From these verses we can see that the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world (the “great commission”) was fulfilled by 70 A.D., when the Jewish dispensation came to an end, and the Messianic kingdom was established. The logic of Paul’s argument in Romans 10:18 presupposes this conclusion as well: if the gospel had already gone out to “all the earth” (i.e., the territory of the Roman Empire) and “to the ends of the world” (i.e., the very boundaries of the “civilized world” at the time) then of course the Jewish people would have already heard it preached to them; consequently, they had no excuse for their unbelief.
I think the most forceful objection to this view of Daniel 12 is that there was no physical, bodily resurrection at the time when Jerusalem was destroyed. However, the language of the text does not demand that we understand it in this way - and I don’t think the context even allows us to understand it this way. It was not uncommon among the Hebrew people to use the word “sleep” to represent a state of spiritual stupor, sloth, despondency or death from which people were called to “awaken” (see Isaiah 29:10, 51:17, 52:1-2, 60:1; Rom. 13:11; 1 Cor. 15:34; Eph. 5:14; 1 Thess. 5:4-6; Rev. 3:1-2). Similarly, the image of “dust” was sometimes used to signify a low, subjected or degraded condition (Gen 3:14; Psalm 44:25; Job 42:6; Isaiah 25:12, 26:5, 29:4, 47:1; Nahum 3:18), and being exalted from this condition to one of honor and blessing was described as being raised from the dust, shaking oneself from the dust, or awakening from the dust (1 Sam 2:8; 1 Kings 16:2; Psalm 113:7; Isaiah 26:5, 19; 52:2). It is significant that in Ephesians 5:14 Paul combines the metaphors of “sleeping” and “awakening” that are found in Daniel 12:2 with that of being “dead” and “arising,” and applies it to circumstances taking place in his own day.
And as I’m sure most believers in UR realize, the word here translated as “everlasting” (olam) need not denote endless or “eternal” duration in an absolute sense; in most instances (I would say all instances, in fact), the word simply denotes a time period of uninterrupted, indefinite and temporal duration in this world, and embraces the entire duration of whatever subject to which it is applied. Moreover, the “everlasting life” into which the righteous “awoke” at this time is nowhere said to be an immortal existence in heaven. Instead, “everlasting life” denotes the blessing of being in the Messianic kingdom after its establishment in the world at Christ’s coming in the destruction of Jerusalem. It is contrasted with “shame and everlasting contempt” because it was this to which the unrighteous Jews “awoke” at this time in redemptive history.
In the New Testament, “eternal life” (the “life of the age”) and the “kingdom of God” are basically synonymous expressions, and were used interchangeably by Christ (see Matt 19:16-17, 23-24; 25:34, 46; Mark 9:45-47). To have the “life of the age” (or simply, “life”) is to be in the “kingdom of God,” and to be in God’s kingdom is to be in possession of this life; to inherit the kingdom of God is the same as entering into “the life of the age” (Matt 25:34, 46). That this “life” (i.e., an inheritance in the kingdom of God) is a spiritual blessing that may be enjoyed before the literal resurrection of the dead is evident from Christ’s words in John chapter 6. In v. 40 Christ declares, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Thus, “everlasting life” is not to be understood as being the blessing of those who are literally raised from the dead. Instead, it is a blessing that can be enjoyed by people throughout the entire duration of the Messianic reign, which commenced in 70 AD and will conclude at some future time.