This passage is very obscure, and has consequently been explained in very opposite ways by interpreters. And whatever is obscure, is usually doubtful, and there would be little utility and no termination, if I were to narrate the opinions of them all. I shall therefore follow another method, and omitting all superfluous labor, I shall simply inquire the angel’s meaning. I must, however, refer briefly to opinions received by the consent of the majority, because they occupy the minds of many, and thus close the door to the correct interpretation. The Jews, for instance, are not agreed among themselves, and their difference of opinion only serves to produce and perpetuate darkness, rather than to diffuse the clearness of light. Some explain it of Antiochus, and others of the Romans, but in a manner different to that which I shall afterwards state. The Christian expositors present much variety, but the greater number incline towards Antichrist as fulfilling the prophecy. Others, again, use greater moderation by supposing Antichrist to be here obliquely hinted at, while they do not exclude Antiochus as the type and image of Antichrist. This last opinion has great probability, but. I do not approve of it, and can easily refute it. Antiochus did not long survive the pollution of the Temple, and then the following events by no means suit the occurrences of this time. Nor can his sons be fairly substituted in his place, and hence we must pass on to some other king, distinct from Antiochus and his heirs. As I have already stated, some of the Rabbis explain this of the Romans, but without judgment, for they first apply the passage to Vespasian, and Titus his son, and then extend it to the present times, which is utterly without reason, as they chatter foolishly, according to their usual custom. Those who explain it of Antichrist, have some color of reason for their view, but there is no soundness in their conclusion, and we shall perceive this better in the progress of our exposition. We must now discover what king the angel here designates. First of all, I apply it entirely to the Roman Empire, but I do not (185) consider it to begin at the reign of the Caesars, for this would be unsuitable and out of date, as we shall see. By the word “king” I do not think a single person indicated, but an empire, whatever be its government, whether by a senate, or by consuls, or by proconsuls. This need not appear either harsh or absurd, as the Prophet had previously discussed the four monarchies, and when treating of the Romans he calls their power a kingdom, as if they had but a single ruler over them. And when he spoke of the Persian monarchy, he did not refer to a single ruler, but included them all, from Cyrus to the last Darius, who was conquered by Alexander. This method of speech is already very familiar to us, as the word “king” often means “kingdom.” The angel, then, when saying, a king shall do anything, does not allude to Antiochus, for all history refutes this. Again, he does not mean any single individual, for where shall we find one who exalted himself against all gods? who oppressed God’s Church, and fixed his palace between two seas, and seized upon the whole East? The Romans alone did this. I intend to shew more clearly to-morrow how beautifully and appositely everything related by the angel applies to the Roman empire; and if anything should appear either obscure or doubtful, a continued interpretation will bring it to light and confirm it.
We lay this down at once; the angel did not prophesy of Antiochus, or any single monarch, but of a new empire, meaning, the Roman. We have the reason at hand why the angel passes directly from Antiochus to the Romans. God desired to support the spirits of the pious, lest they should be overwhelmed by the number and weight of the massacres which awaited them and the whole Church even to the advent of Christ. It was not sufficient to predict the occurrences under the tyranny of Antiochus; for after his time, the Jewish religion was more and more injured, not only by foreign enemies, but by their own priesthood. Nothing remained unpolluted, since their avarice and ambition had arrived at such a pitch, that they trod under foot the whole glory of God, and the law itself. The faithful required to be fortified against such numerous temptations, until Christ came, and then God renewed the condition of his Church. The time, therefore, which intervened between the Maccabees and the manifestation of Christ ought not to be omitted. The reason is now clear enough why the angel passes at once from Antiochus to the Romans.
We must next ascertain how the Romans became connected with the elect people of God. Had their dominion been limited to Europe alone, the allusion to them would have been useless and out of place. But from the period of the kings of Syria being oppressed by many and constant devastation’s in war, both at home and abroad, they were unable to injure the Jews as they had previously done; then new troubles sprang up through the Romans. We know, indeed, when many of the kings of Syria were indulging in arrogance, how the Romans interposed their authority, and that, too, with bad faith, for the purpose of subjecting the east to themselves. Then when Attalus made the Roman people his heir, the whole of Asia Minor became absorbed by them. They became masters of Syria by the will of this foolish king, who defrauded his legal heirs, thinking by this conduct to acquire some regard for his memory after his death. From that period, when the Romans first acquired a taste of the wealth of these regions, they never failed to find some cause for warfare. At length Pompey subdued Syria, and Lucullus, who had previously carried on war with Mithridates, restored the kingdom to Tigranes. Pompey, as I have already remarked, subjected Syria to the Romans. He left, indeed, the Temple untouched, but we may conjecture the cruelty which he exercised towards the Jews by the ordinary practice of this people. The clemency of the Romans towards the nations which they subdued is notorious enough. After Crassus, the most rapacious of all men, had heard much of the wealth of the Jews, he desired that province as his own. We know, too, how Pompey and Caesar, while they were friends, partitioned the whole world among themselves. Gaul and Italy were assigned entirely to Caesar; Pompey obtained Spain, and part of Africa and Sicily; while Crassus obtained Syria and the regions of the east, where he miserably perished, and his head, filled with gold, was Carried about in mockery from place to place. A second calamity occurred during that incursion of Crassus, and from this time the Jews were harassed by many and continual wars. Before this period, they had entered into an alliance with the Romans, as we are informed by the books of the Maccabees, as well as by profane writers. Therefore, when they granted liberty to the Jews, (1 Maccabees 8:0, and 14) it; was said (186) they were generous at the expense of others. This was their ordinary and usual practice; at first they received with friendship all who sought their alliance by treaty, and then they treated them with the utmost cruelty. The wretched Jews were treated in this way. The angel then alludes to them first, and afterwards speaks of Antiochus. All these points, thus briefly mentioned, we must bear in mind, to enable us to understand the context, and to shew the impossibility of interpreting the prophecy otherwise than of the Romans.
I now proceed to the words, The king shall do according to his will I have stated that we need not restrict this expression to a single person, as the angel prophesies of the continued course of the Roman monarchy.He shall raise himself and magnify himself, says he, above every god. This will be explained by and bye, where the king is said to be a despiser of all deities. But with reference to the present passage, although impiety and contempt of God spread throughout the whole world, we know how peculiarly this may be said of the Romans, because their pride led them to pass an opinion upon the right of each deity to be worshipped. And, therefore, the angel will use an epithet for God, meaning fortitude’s and munitions, מעזים megnezim as in Daniel 11:38. That passage, I shall show you to-morrow, has been badly explained; for interpreters, as we shall discover, are utterly “at sea” as to its meaning. (187) But here the angel, by attributing contempt of the one God and of all deities to the Romans, implies their intense pride and haughtiness, in which they surpassed other profane nations. And, truly, they did not preserve even a superstitious fear of God; and while they vauntingly paraded the superior piety of both their ancestors and themselves, yet, an accurate perusal of their writings will disclose what they really thought. They made a laughingstock of all divinities, and ridiculed the very name and appearance of piety, and used it only for the purpose of retaining their subjects in obedience. The angel then says most truly of his empire, it shall magnify itself against all deities; and it shall speak wonderful things against the God of gods, by which the Jewish religion is intended. For before they had passed into Asia Minor, and penetrated beyond Mount Taurus, they were ignorant of the law of God, and had never heard of the name of Moses. They then began to take notice of the worship of some peculiar god by that nation, and of the form of their piety being distinct from that of all other people. From the period of the knowledge of the peculiarities of the Jewish religion being spread among the Romans, they began to vomit forth their blasphemies against the God of gods We need not gather together the proof of this from their histories; but Cicero in his oration for Flaccus, (section. 28,) tears most contemptuously to pieces the name of the true God; and that impure slanderer — for he deserves the name — so blurts out his calumnies, as if the God who had revealed himself to His elect people by his law, was unworthy of being reckoned with Venus or Bacchus, or their other idols. Lastly, he treats the numerous massacres to which the Jews were exposed, as a proof of their religion being hated by all the deities; and this he thinks ought to be a sufficient sign of the detestable character of their religion. The angel then has every reason to declare the Romans puffed up with pride and haughtiness, as they did not hesitate to treat the name of the true God with such marked contempt.
He shall utter, says he, remarkable things against the God of gods The angel seems to refer to a single individual, but we have stated his reference to be to this empire. He adds next, And he shall prosper until the consumption, or completion, or consummation of the indignation, since the determination has been made Here also the angel treats of a long succession and series of victories, which prevent the application of the passage to Antiochus. For he died immediately after he had spoiled the Temple; all his offspring perished by each other’s hands; and the Romans, to their great disgrace, acquired possession of Syria and that portion of the East. We must necessarily explain this of the Romans, as they notoriously prospered in their wars, especially on the continent of Asia. And if they were sometimes in difficulties, as we shall see to-morrow when treating the words which the angel will then use, they soon recovered their usual success. The angel here says, This king shall prosper till the end of the indignation; meaning, until God should punish the hypocrites, and thus humble his Church. I refer this to God, as I shall explain more at length tomorrow.