This article is an exposition of Daniel 12, and ends with some discussion questions on the chapter.

5 pages.

Daniel 12 – Resurrection of the Dead

The vision of chapter 11 continues in Daniel 12. The words “At that time” refer to the end of chapter 11. In 11:45, we saw that the Romans, who pitched their extravagant tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain, would also come to their end. 

God’s people must be encouraged; they must know that no oppressor will remain. They all will come to their end. Implicitly it is meant that God will bring them to their end. Then Michael the archangel shall arise, the great prince whom God appointed to protect God’s people. Michael is also mentioned in Revelation 12:7. He is the great fighter, who defends God’s people against Satan and against all enemies. Michael will not be able to prevent God’s people from suffering, but he will deliver them from it.

There will be a time of terrible trouble as there has never been before. Satan will do everything he can to destroy God’s people. It will come to a climax, but he will not succeed. Daniel’s people will be delivered. The persecution is only for a short time and will come to an end.

Nevertheless, many will die. The word used for die is “sleep in the dust of the earth” (verse 2). The word sleep indicates that it is only a temporary situation. They will die, but they will not remain dead forever, so it is as if they sleep. At the appointed time they will awake, and then they will go to their destination, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.1

We read here about the resurrection of the body. We know that our soul will immediately be taken up to Christ (see Lord’s Day 22), but our body will lie in the dust, until Christ will come again and call it to life again. At this time our body will be reunited with our soul, and then the believers will receive eternal glory, but the unbelievers will receive eternal shame and contempt, eternal suffering.

God’s people know that during their life on earth they will be persecuted, and it may seem as if it is the evil one who reigns on earth. But at the end they will be vindicated. This is what God’s people should trust and draw strength from, in order to persevere in persecution. Verse 3 speaks about those who have received divine wisdom. “...they shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn man to righteousness, will shine like the stars for ever and ever.”  Daniel and his friends are an example. By their wisdom they were a bright light during their time on earth. They led King Nebuchadnezzar as well as Darius to the recognition that God is God alone (Daniel 4:34; 6:26). Many more Christians will shine during their life on earth. By their wisdom they will lead many to righteousness. Their wisdom cannot remain unnoticed. People will see it and many of those who see it, will be led to righteousness, to God. There will also be those who reject it and persecute the Christians, because they will hate the divine wisdom. For a time, people may try to darken the wise, even kill them, but the Christians only have to wait, until the time that God will vindicate them. No one will be able to extinguish their light. They will shine like stars for ever and ever.

The time of the end🔗

Which time does Daniel 12:1-4 speak of? Is it of a time directly after what is mentioned in Daniel 11:45? Must we think about the time of the Roman Empire, or thereafter?

It is remarkable that up until here, the description of the following time is quite precise. If you use a history book, you will recognize many elements from the vision in chapter 11. But towards the end of chapter 11 it already became more general and in chapter 12, it becomes vague. It is important to keep in mind what we learned from the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2, and the huge statue that symbolizes four successive empires.

The vision in Daniel 11 describes the time during those four empires. The last empire is the Roman Empire. After that, there will be a rock, cut out not by human hands, which will destroy the entire statue and become a great mountain, filling the entire earth.

The vision in Daniel 11 ends with the Roman Empire which will come to its end, as is described in Daniel 11:45. A time will start in which the kingdom of Christ will grow and increase and fill the entire earth. But it will not go smoothly. It will go through fierce battle and constant war. It will be a time in which many of God’s people will be killed. Daniel 12 is therefore a more general prophecy about the entire end time.

This vision, as well as all the other revelations from chapter 9:20 to chapter 12, are not meant to give an exact description of what will happen.  Chapter 11 speaks about a period of over four centuries, and it is too short to be taken as a description of all that will happen in those four centuries. It is meant to be an encouragement for the people of God. Despite all that is going on in this world, and all that mighty powers will do against God’s people, they all will come to their end, but God’s people will survive and will be delivered. This was so during those four centuries, and will also be from then on.

The sealed book🔗

In verse 4, Daniel is told to seal the book. That means that it must be closed for a later time. In Revelation 22:10 John was told not to seal up the words of the prophecy of the book (Revelation) because the time was near. But in Daniel’s situation, the time was not yet near. This means that these prophecies are given to Daniel for a time yet to come. Daniel had to put it on paper and seal it as a letter to future generations. It was not for his time, but for the time of the end. See also Daniel 12:5-9. Daniel himself did not understand the words he heard (verse 8) and when he asked for an explanation, he got as answer: ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.’ When the time is right, people who have wisdom (those who know God’s Word) will understand it, because it will come to pass in those days.

 ‘Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase’ (Daniel 12:4 ESV). Here again, the NIV translation is to be preferred above the ESV. ‘Many will go here and there to increase knowledge’. That is also a reason why Daniel had to seal the words of this book. To understand what this means, we can look at Isaiah 29:9-12, especially verse 11 which reads, “And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, 'Read this,' he says, 'I cannot, for it is sealed.'”

When the time of fulfillment of this prophecy comes, the wise will understand. But Daniel 12:10 speaks about the wicked who will not understand. Many will be seeing blind and hearing deaf. That is also the reason why the Lord Jesus spoke in parables. Parables were not merely nice stories from everyday life which the Lord Jesus used to explain the things of the kingdom, but were meant to separate those who had been given knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven, and those who hadn't.   (Read Matthew 13:10-17.) It will be as prophesied by Isaiah: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive...” (Matthew 13:14b)  This is the same with the words of these prophesies of Daniel. People will run to and fro to increase their knowledge, but they will not listen to the Word of God. It will be for them like a closed book, a sealed scroll.  “And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10b)

How long?🔗

In verse 6 we read the question, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?" Not when will it happen, but, how long will it take for this all to come to an end? It is like the cry in Hymn 52:3: “yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, ‘How long?’”

In verse 7 we read again those mysterious words ‘time, times and half a time.’ Already in chapter 7:25 we have read them. There I explained it, “Verse 25 speaks about a time, times and half a time. For a time, and thereafter more times, it seems as if he can do what he wants. It is not just for a limited time (‘a time’), but it is as if nobody holds him back (‘times’). After ‘a time’ and ‘times’, one would expect an unlimited time, forever. But that is not going to happen. Just when it looks like he will go on forever, God cuts him short (half a time).”

We must take this all symbolically. We should not try to find a mathematical explanation for this. In Revelation 20, the end time is symbolically summarized as the thousand years. Those thousand years and the time, times and half a time form a contrast. The kingdom of Christ will be an everlasting kingdom, a kingdom without end (thousand could also mean ‘eternal’, or ‘complete’: it will not be cut short before the end). In contrast with this, we see that the evil one gets only a limited time (time, times and half a time). His time will be cut short by God.

Daniel 12:7 also speaks of “...when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end...”  This cannot refer to the time of Antiochus, or the Roman Empire. They both were cruel in their persecution of God’s people, but they did not succeed in fully destroying God’s people. On the contrary, the resistance of the Jews under Antiochus was almost successful, but Antiochus was replaced by the Romans. These Romans also came to their end. But the time of persecution did not come to an end; it still continues. Yet throughout all time, since before the time of Daniel, no empire or earthly power, government, false religion or whatever, has ever been able to completely shatter the power of God’s holy people. The shattering will come to an end. Not because God’s holy people will be shattered, but because God brings the persecution to an end.

Daniel does not understand this and asks for an explanation in verse 8, “O my Lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” But God tells him that he will not receive an answer. The words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. When it is the time of the end those who read it will understand it. The end of time is the time after the coming of Christ, when his kingdom will conquer the entire world and fill the whole earth, as prophesied in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. That is the time in which we live. Having received the complete revelation in the entire Bible we will be able to understand these prophecies much better than Daniel did in his days.

The book of Revelation is in fact an elaboration on the words of Daniel 12. It is given to us to encourage us. All those who know the Word of God, will understand the message of the book of Revelation.  In the book of Revelation we receive the same message as in Daniel 10-12: the church of Christ will go through a time of great trouble and much persecution. But God will protect and defend his church. The church will survive, the church of Christ will be vindicated and receive glory, whereas those who persecuted her, will receive eternal shame and contempt.

Numbers and Symbols🔗

The verses 11 and 12 again use some symbolical numbers. There has been and will be a lot of discussion as to what exactly these numbers mean. Some have taken them literally and have tried to find an explanation for them in the time of Antiochus, but none of them succeeded in giving a satisfactory explanation. This helps to emphasize the point that these numbers must be taken symbolically. 1290 days is to be explained as 3 ½ years. The Hebrew calendar was a bit different than ours. They counted in lunar months, which were usually 30 days. Twelve months was then 360 days, instead of 365. Probably, they inserted an extra month from time to time, to keep their calendar in harmony with the solar year. That may explain the number 1290 for 3 ½ years, instead of 1260. 3 ½ years is again the time, times and half a time, earlier mentioned, where the plural ‘times’ is then counted as two years.

1335 days is one and half months longer than those 3 ½ years, and indicates a blessing on those who are able to persevere longer than the 3 ½ years of the persecution last.

Again, these numbers can be explained in many different ways. We should not get stuck in endless discussions about the meaning of these numbers. The emphasis is on endurance to the end (Mark 13:13). It may take quite a while, but never give up. Even if it looks like the end is near, continue to persevere. Don’t stop too soon, but persevere until it is really the end.


  1. Look at Daniel 12:6.  The outline points out that the question is asked “How long” and not “When”.  What is the difference between the two ways of phrasing the question?  Why is one acceptable, and not the other?
  2. The end of Daniel gives us a glimpse into the future.  Is it wrong for us to try to figure out what our future holds through “supernatural” means?  How is this different?
  3. Can you give examples of people who will run to and fro to increase their knowledge, but they will not listen to the Word of God?  What is the result?
  4. There are many different popular ideas on how it will go when the world ends.  One of the more popular ones lately (thanks to the book Left Behind) is the Rapture (based on Matthew 24, Luke 17 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16) and premillennialism (based on the literal translation of Revelation 6:20).   How do we respond to these, and other, theories of the end of time?
  5. What are some meaningful lessons that you have learned throughout the book of Daniel? How do they apply to your life? 
  6. The theme of the book Daniel is that God rules and God works out his plan.  How have you seen that throughout this book?  What are some texts that bring you encouragement when it seems things are “out of control”?


  1. ^ The ESV speaks of many who sleep in the dust (verse 2), whereas the NIV, which is the better translation of this verse, speaks of multitudes who sleep in the dust.  The NIV is preferred because they will all die and awaken, not just some of them as could be implied by the word “many” in the ESV.

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