A popular end-time prediction is that Daniel 12 is referring to events in our day, more than 2600 years from the time the prophecy was given to Daniel. For example, Hal Lindsey claims the following: “When Daniel emerged from the vision, the angel instructed him, ‘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’” (Dan. 12:4). He then adds: “The prophecies of Daniel were indeed ‘sealed’ for centuries following the Reformation.” (Hal Lindsey, “The Prophecies of Daniel: Why They Point to Us” (August 24, 2007).)
Contrast this with what the angel tells John in Revelation 22:10: “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’” If Daniel’s sealed prophecy refers to our day, then to what time does Revelation’s unsealed prophecy refer? Contrary to Lindsey, Revelation reopens the prophecy given to Daniel, a fulfillment that was said to be “near” for John and Revelation’s first readers (Rev. 1:1, 3). The “end time” of Daniel is the New Testament’s “end of the age” (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1–2). We learn from Peter that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7), that is, the end of all things related to the old covenant (Heb. 10:23–25) and the end of Adam’s age (Rom. 5:12–18) with the coming of the Second or Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). The destruction of the temple in AD 70 brought an end to any need for a new temple, a reconstituted high priesthood, or the re-establishment of animal sacrifices.
Lindsey sees modern-day technological advancements and the rise of mass transit as a fulfillment of Daniel 12.
The angel told Daniel his vision would be unintelligible to generations other than the one to whom it was addressed, a generation whose hallmark would be that of ever-increasing knowledge.
Thanks to Bell Labs’ 1948 invention [of the transistor], Moore’s Law of Computer says that today’s computers get twice as smart every 18 months to two years. That means we get twice as smart.
The angel also identified the generation of the time of the end as one in which “many would go to and fro”—the generation that witnessed the birth of rapid mass transportation.
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Many run “to and fro,” knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate, and more books have been written about the prophet Daniel in this generation than in the last 2,500 years combined.
Just because computer chips can calculate at fast speeds does not make them “smart,” and it certainly doesn’t mean that we get any smarter. A case could be made that as computers process more information quickly, we actually lose our ability to retain information since we become reliant on electronic devices to store our needed knowledge.
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Dispensational author Henry Morris follows a similar approach, as did other prophecy writers before him. How do we know, following Morris’ logic below, that in the distant future, people won’t be traveling even faster than they do today, and knowledge won’t increase even more than it has in the past century?
[W]e are being told that, near the time of the end, people in large numbers would be “running”—not merely “traveling,” but (literally) “racing”—from one location to another and back again. At any rate, it is profoundly true that travel and speed have increased in our times to a degree that could never have been predicted at all except by supernatural inspiration. In Isaac Newton’s day—no less than in Daniel’s day—about the fastest a man could travel would be on a swift horse. But Newton, who was probably the greatest scientist of all time, as well as a diligent student and believer of Daniel’s prophecies, claimed on the basis of this verse that men would someday be able to travel as fast as 50 miles per hour, even from country to country. A century later, Voltaire, the French anti-Christian Deist, ridiculed this statement, suggesting that Newton’s Christianity had affected his reason.
The fact is that the scientific era which Newton, as much as any one man, introduced, has seen—just in the past century or little more—invention of the steam locomotive, then the automobile, then the airplane, now the space-ship hurtling through space at incredible speeds. This prophecy could hardly have been fulfilled more explicitly than it is now being fulfilled in this “time of the end.”
The other half of the prophecy—“knowledge shall be increased”—could well be translated “science shall be increased,” for the two words are synonymous in meaning and derivation. The scientific and technological advances in just the past generation are legion—radio, television, electrical appliances to do almost everything, super-highways, nuclear power, computers, automation, radar, plastics, microchips, robots, and on and on. Less than two centuries ago, all the scientists in the world probably could have convened in one large auditorium; now there are millions of them, working in hundreds of scientific disciplines. . . . (Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 20–22.)
Like so many prophetic speculators, their exegesis is guided more by newspaper headlines than the Bible. John Cumming (1807–1881), one of Lindsey’s favorite prophecy writers, practiced a similar form of “newspaper exegesis” in his day. Robert H. Ellison, in an insightful study of Cumming’s views on Bible prophecy, makes the following observation: “[Cumming] asserts that it is ‘neither hasty nor irrelevant’ to compare ‘ancient prophecy’ with daily press reports and states that ‘This use of the modern newspaper is all the originality I claim.’” (Robert H. Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics: Some Victorian Perspectives on the End Times,” Leeds, Centre Working Papers in Victorian Studies: Platform Pulpit Rhetoric, ed. Martin Hewitt, vol. 3 (Horsforth, Leeds: Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2000), 83, note 20.) Here are some examples of Cumming’s “newspaper exegesis” as detailed by Ellison:
Cumming’s use of current events to interpret ancient Scripture gets rather ingenious at times. He claims, for example, that Daniel’s phrase ‘And knowledge shall be increased’ [Dan. 12:4] can also be translated ‘And knowledge shall be flashed along’, a rendering which anticipates the telegraph, the ‘mysterious whispering wire’ (John Cumming, Behold, The Bridegroom Cometh: The Last Warning Cry with Reasons for the Hope That is in Me (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1865), 357–358. Also see pages 189–190.) that can transmit a message to ‘the most distant capital of Europe’ in less than an hour’s time. Even more inventive is his interpretation of the prophecy he sees in Isaiah 18:1–2—’Woe to the land . . . beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters’. He asserts that the phrase ‘vessels of bulrushes’ is literally ‘vessels of that which drinks water’, a phrase which many have perplexed the translators working in 1611 [when the King James Version of the Bible was published] but which can now be seen as a reference to the steamship, a ‘vessel whose . . . motive force from beginning to end, is water’. (Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics,” 77.)
Cumming also saw “railway traveling” (Quoted in Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics,” 79.) to be a reference to “many shall run to and fro” (Dan. 12:4). Current prophecy writers like Lindsey are just as ingenious when they see modern transportation systems and computer technology as a fulfillment of Daniel 12:4. (Ed Hindson and Lee Fredrickson, Future Wave: End Times Prophecy, and the Technology Explosion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2001); Peter Lalonde and Paul Lalonde, Racing Toward . . . The Mark of the Beast: Your Money, Computers, and the End of the World (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994).) This is such a discredited interpretation that it’s embarrassing to read that anyone still believes and teaches it. Even many die-hard dispensationalists reject the idea that the “increase in knowledge” refers to “the recent explosion in knowledge.” (Mark Hitchcock, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 176–177.)
The Real Increase in Knowledge
So what does “knowledge will increase” mean? James B. Jordan, in his commentary on Daniel, The Handwriting on the Wall, offers a helpful explanation:
Those who take verse 4 as referring to events at the end of history believe that Daniel’s prophecy is “sealed up” until that time. Only as the second coming of Christ draws near will we be able to understand prophetic truth. Hal Lindsey, of course, believes that the end is near and that he, unlike previous generations of Christian thinkers, understands the previously hidden prophetic truth. The sealing of the book, however, does not mean that it cannot be understood, but rather that the angel has told Daniel all that he is going to say at this point in history. The book is unsealed in Revelation 5–6, and in Revelation 22:10 the completed book is left unsealed because there is no more to be said.
Prophetic speculators take note of the fact that with the coming of railroads, automobiles, and airplanes, people “go to and fro” much more than ever before in history. Scientific knowledge has also boomed in recent years. We can say, of course, that a thousand years from now people may be going to and fro even more than they do now, and there will be even more knowledge around, so how can anyone know that our own generation is the time verse 4 is pointing to?
The real point, of course, is that this kind of “interpretation” of verse 4 is possible only by wrenching the text completely out of its context and then dreaming up possible meanings…. [T]here is plenty of going to and fro in Daniel 11 and that is pretty clearly what verse 4 refers to…. (“run to and fro—not referring to the modern rapidity of locomotion, as some think, nor to Christian missionaries going about to preach the Gospel to the world at large [Albert Barnes], which the context scarcely admits; but, whereas now but few care for this prophecy of God, ‘at the time of the end,’ that is, near its fulfilment, ‘many shall run to and fro,’ that is, scrutinize it, running through every page. Compare Hab 2:2 [John Calvin]: it is thereby that ‘the knowledge (namely, of God’s purposes as revealed in prophecy) shall be increased.’” (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997], Dan. 12:4).) [T]he increase of knowledge is pretty obvious: As time goes along and the predictions in Daniel 11 are fulfilled decade by decade, the prophecy will be better and better understood. (James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 624–625.)
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The Hebrew word for “knowledge” in Daniel 12:4 is not a reference to a mass collection or library of data. (An increase in travel toward the end of the age is not the idea of the phrase ‘will go here and there.’ In a number of Old Testament passages (e.g., 2 Chr 16:9; Jer 5:1; Amos 8:12; Zech 4:10), [the] Hebrew … denotes ‘to go here and there’ in search of a person or thing, and that is the meaning here. An ‘intense’ searching seems indicated by the verb form. The purpose of this search will be ‘to increase knowledge.’ Yet Gabriel was not predicting a mere surge in scientific ‘knowledge,’ and so forth, in the last days. The article appears with ‘knowledge’ (lit., ‘the knowledge’), showing that a particular kind of ‘knowledge’ was intended, that is, when and how Daniel’s message is to be fulfilled. As the time of fulfillment draws nearer, the “wise” will seek to comprehend these prophecies more precisely, and God will grant understanding (‘knowledge’) to them.” (Stephen R. Miller, Daniel [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001], 18:321).) Knowledge is used as revelational information about God and His works. The Hebrew word has the meaning of “understanding, wisdom, i.e., a knowledge with focus on moral qualities and its application (Ge 2:9; Pr 2:5).” (James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 1981, #6.)
It’s most likely that the knowledge being described in Daniel 12:4 is related to the new covenant and the coming of the promised Redeemer. Since the focus of the Bible is on Jesus (Luke 24:25–27), we should expect that this is what God had in mind when the angel told Daniel that “knowledge” will increase. What redemptive significance does a fatter set of encyclopedias have to do with God’s redemptive plan for His people? Zacharias and Elizabeth (1:5–25), Joseph and Mary (1:26–56), Simeon (Luke 2:25–32) and Anna (2:36–38) had an increase in knowledge as the realities of the old covenant were unfolding in their day. The Scriptures “testify” about Jesus (John 5:39). Jesus uses Daniel 7:13 as the defining event in His ministry (Matt. 24:30), something His accusers should have understood (26:64). This is the “increase in knowledge” that the angel was describing. Even dispensational apologist Thomas Ice recognizes that the interpretation followed by Lindsey, Morris, and so many other pop-prophecy analysts found on the Internet have misread and misapplied Daniel 12:4.
It could be argued that the New Testament itself is the increase of knowledge: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Then there is the negative side to the promise of an increase in revelational knowledge: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).