The book of Daniel combines two types of literature: court narrative and apocalypse. The opening narrative section presents six stories of how God protected and promoted four young men who were taken into exile in Babylon. When Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego demonstrate their faithfulness to God, they are delivered from deadly perils by God’s mighty acts. Daniel was given the ability to interpret dreams, earning him a valued place in the royal court of Babylon, and later in the Persian Empire.
The second part of the book describes visions and messages Daniel received from God through angelic messengers. These visions are presented in the cryptic language and symbolic terms typical of apocalyptic literature. Within them we see the outlines of Near Eastern history: the empires of Babylon and Persia; the conquests of Alexander the Great; and the ongoing strife between the Ptolemys in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria. The visions anticipate an arrogant ruler, the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who desecrated the Jerusalem temple in 167 BC. This led to the Maccabean revolt, which restored the nation’s independence and preserved the worship of Israel’s God.
The visions in Daniel can also be understood to reveal the conditions at the end of the present age, showing it to be a time of definitive conflict between God’s people and their enemies. The people of God will be sustained through their persecutions knowing they will receive the kingdom.