Plundering Jerusalem and the Temple
The Treaty of Apamea, which ended the war between Rome and Syria in 188 B.C., required that the Syrian king provide hostages to ensure the peace. One of the hostages was the prince, Antiochus IV, who was to be known later as Epiphanes. As I said earlier, his father died the following year in 187 B.C., and so his brother, Seleucus, took the throne. The Romans then allowed Antiochus to return to Syria, replacing him with his nephew, Demetrius, who was the son of Seleucus and the heir to his throne.
Seleucus ruled until 175. He was known as the one who, around 178 B.C., attempted and failed to plunder the temple, when Heliodorus, his tax collector, was scourged by an angel at the door of the temple. Heliodorus poisoned the king three years later and tried to take the throne. However, Antiochus overthrew him with the help of the king of Pergamon and seized the throne for himself.
Antiochus was born with the name Mithridates in 215 B.C. He changed his name to Antiochus only after ascending the throne in 175. The Jewish Encyclopedia describes him, saying, “He was vainglorious and fond of display to the verge of eccentricity.”
The Greek empire itself was ruled spiritually by the Prince of Vainglory (kenodoxa), but it appears that Antiochus stands out as the most vainglorious of all the kings. This indicates that he was the king who was most influenced by Prince Vainglory during the supremacy of the Greek era.
Antiochus IV Usurps the Throne (175)
The prophecy about Antiochus IV begins in Dan. 11:21,
21 And in his place a despicable person will arise, on whom the honor of kingship has not been conferred, but he will come in a time of tranquility and seize the kingdom by intrigue.
Antiochus called himself “God manifest,” but 2½ centuries earlier the angel had told Daniel that Antiochus was “a despicable person” who was not the heir to the throne. Seleucus’ son, Demetrius, was the rightful heir, but he was just ten years old. So his uncle Antiochus was able to “come in a time of tranquility and seize the kingdom by intrigue.”
Antiochus IV Conquers Egypt (173-171)
Two years later (173) Antiochus and Apollonius, his general, invaded Egypt in order to take back control of Judea, Lebanon, and Coelesyria that his father had given as a dowry to Cleopatra. He took the boy-king, Ptolemy, prisoner in 171. So Dan. 11:22 tells us,
22 And the overflowing forces will be flooded away before him and shattered, and also the prince of the covenant.
In other words, the army of Egypt was to be “flooded away before him and shattered.” Likewise, “the prince of the covenant” (that is, the treaty) was also to be shattered, as eleven-year-old Ptolemy VI was taken prisoner. Antiochus then crowned himself “King of Egypt.” Josephus tells us,
“Now Antiochus, upon the agreeable situation of the affairs of his kingdom, resolved to make an expedition against Egypt, both because he had a desire to gain it, and because he condemned the son of Ptolemy, as now weak, and not yet of abilities to manage affairs of such consequence; so he came with great forces to Pelusium, and circumvented Ptolemy Philometor by treachery, and seized upon Egypt” (Antiquities of the Jews, XII, v, 2).
Rome then intervened again. The Roman ambassador to Egypt was Lyseas. He came to Egypt on Greek ships from Cyprus (Kittim), as Dan. 11:30 mentions, and demanded that Antiochus give up his title, “King of Egypt.” Antiochus then pretended that his only desire was to bring order to Egypt in order to help young Ptolemy. In other words, he pretended to befriend Ptolemy and to make an alliance with him. Perhaps it might be better to understand this as a continuation of the Treaty of Apamea sixteen years earlier, in which Rome had imposed peace between Egypt and Syria.
So Daniel 11:23 tells us,
23 And after an alliance is made with him he will practice deception, and he will go up and gain power with a small force of people.
Indeed, Antiochus did “practice deception.” To secure this “alliance” while complying with the demand of Rome, he left only “a small force of people” when he retreated from Egypt. But yet Antiochus was angry at Rome for denying him the fruits of victory. He took out his anger on Judea and Jerusalem on his return from Egypt.
Antiochus IV Plunders Egypt and Judea
Daniel 11:24 says,
24 In a time of tranquility he will enter the richest parts of the realm, and he will accomplish what his fathers never did, nor his ancestors; he will distribute plunder, booty, and possessions among them, and he will devise his schemes against strongholds, but only for a time.
Antiochus plundered all of the large cities of Egypt. 1 Macc. 1:19 says,
19 Thus they got the strong cities in the land of Egypt, and he took the spoils thereof.
Josephus gives more details, saying,
“King Antiochus returning out of Egypt, for fear of the Romans, made an expedition against the city of Jerusalem; and when he was there… he took the city without fighting, those of his own party opening the gates to him. And when he had gotten possession of Jerusalem, and slew many of the opposite party; and when he had plundered it of a great deal of money, he returned to Antioch” (Antiquities of the Jews, XII, v, 3).
Two years later, Antiochus returned to Jerusalem “pretending peace,” as Josephus tells us in the next paragraph. This is what is meant by the word of the angel, “in a time of tranquility,” or peace, in Dan. 11:24 (above). He plundered the temple, as we will see shortly.
Dan. 11:25-27 is largely a restatement to emphasize the importance of the war against Egypt.
25 And he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South with a large army; so the king of the South will mobilize an extremely large and mighty army for war; but he will not stand, for schemes will be devised against him.
The Syrian army was massive. 1 Macc. 1:17 says that Antiochus “invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet.”
The Egyptians, too, amassed a “large and mighty army,” but as we said earlier, they were defeated, and Antiochus declared himself “King of Egypt.”
Daniel 11:26 continues,
26 And those who eat his choice food will destroy him, and his army will overflow, but many will fall down slain.
Ptolemy could not count on his ministers, guardians, and generals for help against the army of Antiochus.
27 As for both kings, their hearts will be intent on evil, and they will speak lies to each other at the same table; but it will not succeed, for the end is still to come at the appointed time.
This prophesies the usual negotiating tactics used by kings who hate each other but who must negotiate at the end of a war. And why should they not lie to each other? The spirit of Vainglory dominated both Egypt and Syria, for both were of the same Greek culture and influence, being ruled by two of the four divisions of Alexander’s empire. Recall that Dan. 8:12 says of Antiochus’s actions, “it will fling truth to the ground.”
The angel showed little respect for either Antiochus or Ptolemy, because both of their hearts were “intent on evil.” Ptolemy was left on the throne as a puppet king, subservient to Antiochus. But the Romans prevented Antiochus from calling himself “King of Egypt.”
The Appointed Time
The angel then says, “the end is still to come at the appointed time.” What “end” was this? What was “the appointed time”? This cryptic statement is clarified two verses later as being the time when Antiochus would desecrate the temple. But this desecration would not occur for another two years. In his first return from Egypt to Antioch, he plundered Jerusalem but left the temple untouched.
28 Then he [Antiochus] will return to his land [Syria] with much plunder; but his heart will be set against the holy covenant, and he will take action and then return to his own land.
This refers to his plundering Jerusalem on the way back to Antioch. In this way, the heart of Antiochus was “set against the holy covenant.” Plundering the temple, or robbing God, manifested his antagonism to God’s covenant with Israel.
But the people of Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, revolted against their puppet king and crowned his younger brother king of Egypt. This was Euergetes, who was called Physcon (“The Paunch,” or “Potbelly”) by the people on account of his obesity. Instead of fighting a civil war in Egypt, however, Ptolemy made peace with his brother. Along with their sister, Cleopatra II, they formed a kind of triumvirate to rule Egypt as family members.
When Antiochus heard of this, he was furious, and so he returned after just two years in a second campaign against Egypt (168 B.C.) Dan. 11:29 refers to this, saying,
29 At the appointed time he will return and come into the South, but this time it will not turn out the way it did before.
Two years later, Antiochus returned to Egypt “pretending peace,” as Josephus tells us. After all, Antiochus had to consider how his actions might antagonize Rome, which was enforcing the peace. In fact, this is what is meant by the word of the angel, “in a time of tranquility,” or peace, in Dan. 11:24 (quoted on page 61).
Once again, the Romans demanded that he withdraw from Egypt. Dan. 11:30 tells us,
30 For the ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore he will be disheartened [ka’ah, “grieved, saddened, cowed, faint-hearted due to fear”]…
In other words, Antiochus was forced once again to withdraw from Egypt. Again, his humiliation and frustration was taken out on Jerusalem, but this time he did much worse. Apparently, it was “the appointed time” for this important event in history.
30 … and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant and take action; so he will come back and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant.
Antiochus did what none of his ancestors did. He plundered the temple in Jerusalem. Josephus tells us about this:
“… [T]he king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery; at which time he spared not so much as those that admitted him into it, on account of the riches that lay in the temple; but, led by his covetous inclination, (for he saw there was in it a great deal of gold, and many ornaments that had been dedicated to it of very great value) and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made. So he left the temple bare, and took away the golden candlesticks, and the golden altar, and table and the altar [of burnt offering]; and did not abstain from even the veils, which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He also emptied it of its secret treasures, and left nothing at all remaining…” (Antiquities of the Jews, XII, v, 4).
The angelic reference to the appointed time tells us that this event was the most important, climactic event in the history of the Greek empire. The desecration of the temple was due to Antiochus’ disregard and opposition to “the holy covenant.”