The structure and chronology of the book of Daniel

Clouds of heaven

The book of Daniel is a testament to God’s sovereign rule over all kingdoms and peoples. In twelve chapters, the book describes the aftermath of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem, focusing on events and visions in the reigns of several rulers during the life of Daniel, the main figure of this apocalyptic book. Shortly after arriving in exile in Babylon, Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar, which honors one of the Babylonian gods. Daniel spent his entire life in Babylonia, though he knew through dreams and visions from Yahweh that his people would not be doomed to exile forever.

The book of Daniel describes many events and mysteries, and Daniel is empowered by God to interpret signs, wonders, dreams, and visions for the various rulers of Babylonia. The book can easily be divided into two halves. Chapters 1–6 are historical, and chapters 7–12 describe prophecies. But the chapters don’t flow chronologically, which is easy to miss without paying close attention to time references.

Here’s how the book of Daniel flows chronologically:

Ch. Year King/Kingdom Theme
1 607 BC Jehoiakim/Judah Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Judah
2 604 BC Nebuchadnezzar/Babylonia Daniel's knowledge and interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's first dream
3 604 BC Nebuchadnezzar/Babylonia The fiery furnace
4 604 BC Nebuchadnezzar/Babylonia Nebuchadnezzar's madness
7 553 BC Belshazzar/Babylonia Daniel's first vision (four beasts and a son of man riding the clouds)
8 550 BC Belshazzar/Babylonia Daniel's second vision (ram and goat, representing Medo-Persia and Greece)
5 539 BC Belshazzar/Babylonia The divine handwriting on the wall
6 539 BC Darius/Medo-Persia Daniel in the lion's den
9 539 BC Darius/Medo-Persia Daniel's prayer and third vision (70 weeks)
10 536 BC Cyrus/Persia Daniel's fourth vision (future days)
11 536 BC Cyrus/Persia Daniel's fourth vision (future days), continued
12 536 BC Cyrus/Persia Daniel's fourth vision (future days), continued

The first six chapters of Daniel are easily the most identifiable. Even non-Christians can recognize the stories of the lion’s den, the fiery furnace, and the handwriting on the wall. But the second half of the book includes powerful prophecies delivered to Daniel in dreams and visions. His first vision, in chapter 7, provides a favorite name of Jesus for himself: Son of Man.1 Through three more visions, Daniel learns of the future for Babylonia, the Israelite exiles, and the nation of Israel.

As an apocalyptic book, Daniel includes references to angels—Michael and Gabriel—the heavenly court of Yahweh, and future events. Studying the book of Daniel is fascinating for this reason alone, as it pulls back the curtain and reveals much of how the physical and spiritual realms relate to one another. It’s beneficial to study Revelation while studying Daniel, as the two depict some of the same events. And with a reading time of about an hour and fifteen minutes, Daniel is an excellent choice for a medium-length Bible study that will certainly offer comfort and hope to any who feel alientated within their culture.

  1. Read chapter 7 for yourself; it’s incredible. I also recommend a book by Michael Heiser called The Unseen Realm, which devotes a chapter to the significance of Daniel 7 in the Israelite-Babylonian context. Read my book review on The Unseen Realm to get the gist of Heiser’s work.