“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.”Daniel 12:4
Today I get to focus — in my opinion — on one of the most easily misinterpreted verses in the prophetic word.
Daniel 12:4 [see above]
For years I heard teachers and pastors interpret this verse as a prophetic prediction of the advancements of modern civilization in the last days — such as fast-paced international travel [running to and fro] and the acceleration of internet technology [increase in knowledge]. Many have used this one verse as a proof text to demonstrate how the technological advancements of the 20th Century are signs of the fulfillment of this prophecy.
But is that what the LORD was communicating here? Is that how Daniel would have understood this verse? Does this verse predict increased travel and technology at the end of the age, or is it something else altogether?
Let’s take a closer look.
Clues about the Future
Before we consider the meaning of Daniel 12:4, I would like to compare a few common interpretive approaches when reading the prophetic word — especially apocalyptic literature.
Some try to interpret these prophetic passages with a modern-day mindset by imposing the present worldview onto the Scriptures. This is especially prevalent in passages from the book of Revelation, where the supernatural and symbolic imagery is often reinterpreted through modern lenses. For example …
- Some speculate that the 3rd Trumpet in Revelation is a nuclear warhead, described as a “great star burning like a torch fell from heaven” [Rev. 8:10].
- Some suggest that the demonic locusts that John saw in Revelation 9 are descriptions of modern-day helicopters because of the following language — “the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle” [Revelation 9:9].
- Others ponder whether satellite television or the internet is implied in Revelation 11, allowing the whole world to see the dead bodies of the two witnesses. “For three and a half days all peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will view their bodies and will not permit them to be laid in a tomb” [Revelation 11:9].
Those who hold such views argue that the prophets often saw visions containing futuristic images that they could not explain to their original audience. So they just used extravagant, symbolic language from their own day in an attempt to describe what they saw of the future.
Personally, I give the Biblical authors much more credit than that. While I do not doubt that prophets like Daniel and the Apostle John often received visions that they could not fully grasp or comprehend, I also believe that the Scriptures have been divinely orchestrated and integrated by the Holy Spirit by using patterns, themes, numbers, symbols, and key figures of speech to connect the entire Bible using key points of intersection. In other words, nothing is random in the Scriptures. Every word is strategically placed to help provide the deeper meaning and correct interpretation. We must always use Scripture to interpret Scripture and be careful of imposing our own imaginations on the text.
On the other extreme, however, many read Biblical prophecy as purely symbolic and spiritual — as having no greater literal, or supernatural fulfillment. Those who hold such a view would consider the locust army in Revelation 9 as nothing more than an allegorical representation of a deeper spiritual truth. In other words, these “locusts” neither represent anything literal nor supernatural nor future for that matter, but only can be applied in some abstract spiritual sense.
Once again, this interpretive method falls short, failing to acknowledge that all symbols and allegories in Scripture point us both to greater supernatural realities and literal future fulfillments.
So how should we interpret these prophetic visions of the future? Can the Bible give us any clues about the future?
I do believe we can infer some things about the future from the prophetic word, but we must be careful to distinguish our conjecture and speculation from what we find explicitly in the text.
I will provide one example of how the prophetic word could provide a connection to our present day by way of implication. Consider the words of Jesus.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”Matthew 24:6-7
I have considered that Jesus’ words could be speaking of a unique future generation that has the capacity to hear news reports (rumors) of wars, revolutions, and natural disasters in “various places” around the world. Of course it seems unlikely that Jesus and the disciples had the capacity to receive such worldwide reports in their day. News surely traveled much slower in the First Century.
Yet here we are in our present day with the ability to receive up-to-date news reports all over the world at the click of a button. Perhaps Jesus was giving us a clue about the unique capacity for the final generation.
So while I do affirm that the Scriptures may sometimes provide clues to us about the future and especially about the end of the age, I do not believe Daniel 12:4 has anything to do with predicting the internet age.
I believe it has everything to do with the mysteries of the prophetic word being unlocked and unsealed in this final generation so that we are able to exercise wisdom and lead many to righteousness!
Many Shall Go To and Fro
What did the LORD mean to convey to Daniel when He said that “many shall run to and fro?” Was God giving us a clue about future travel habits of the world in the last days, or was He referring to something else?
As always, we must allow the context of the passage and entire book determine the meaning of this verse. We must remember that Daniel had just received some of the most important prophetic visions in history. He was shown the details of key events and coming judgments that exclusively apply to the last days — or the time of the end.
To Daniel, much of what he witnessed in these visions was too overwhelming for him to process, which is why the LORD had to consistently remind him that these prophetic visions would ultimately be fulfilled in the last days.
And because these prophecies would not be fully discernible until the last days, the LORD told Daniel to seal up the visions until a future generation emerges that is ready to unseal and understand them. This wasn’t the first time Daniel was commanded to seal up his visions.
“The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”Daniel 8:26
So if these visions have been sealed for the final generation, then what does it mean that many will run to and fro?
Simply, this verse means that many generations of believers will scour these prophetic texts and intently go back and forth, back and forth, throughout the Scriptures in search of their meaning. Of course, prior to the revelation of Christ and the New Testament, few would have any chance of accurately interpreting these prophecies. There were too many missing puzzle pieces at that time.
But as Jesus and the Apostles began to expand upon the testimony of the Biblical prophets, more revelation was given and more keys provided to unlocking these mysteries. And that is precisely what has happened now for the past 2,500 years!
Many have been digging and searching the Scriptures — going back and forth in God’s holy word — prayerfully seeking answers to these prophetic mysteries. This running to and fro is instructive for us today, reminding us how to approach and interpret the Bible. We always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We go back and forth and find the context clues that connect the prophetic word, and God begins to reveal the meaning of the more difficult mysteries. Now that we have the entire Bible to draw from, the prophetic word can and should be read and understood.
Knowledge Shall Increase
It is also interesting that the LORD prophesied to Daniel that “knowledge shall increase” in the last days, as these prophecies are unsealed. This certainly includes the concept of progressive revelation — which basically describes how God has revealed Himself to mankind progressively throughout history, culminating with the revelation of His Son Jesus Christ. It is at the 2nd Coming of Christ that the LORD will be fully revealed in glory!
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”Hebrews 1:1-2
I find it interesting — in contrast to Daniel — that the LORD strictly commanded John not to seal up the book of Revelation. “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” [Revelation 22:10]
I believe the closing of the New Testament was the beginning of God’s unlocking and unsealing of the prophetic word, including Daniel. As God’s people have sought to understand the prophecies of the Bible, we have seen a tremendous increase in knowledge and prophetic understanding in these last days.
I do believe Daniel’s prophetic visions have been unsealed and can now be interpreted by the Holy Spirit for the serious student of God’s word. If we are willing to put in the time to “run to and fro” through the Scriptures, then our “knowledge will increase” and our understanding of these prophecies will expand to new depths.
So many principles could be applied in this regard. The principle of stewardship, for example, which reminds us to be faithful with little and God will give us more. The principle of obedience, which tells us that if we obey what we do know, then God will disclose more of Himself to us [see John 14:21].
Jesus consistently reminds us … “he who has ears let him hear!”
We must always remember that when our knowledge of God and His word does increase and our understanding of the prophetic word grows deeper, it is never for the sake of mere knowledge. God wants us to take what we know and show the world how His prophetic word is true and is being fulfilled before our very eyes! He wants us to be His witnesses and share the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world! He commands us to go and make disciples of all nations — teaching them everything that He commanded us to do!
Even so, Lord Jesus, come!