Skip to content

Insight #155 — Preterism, Like Futurism, Ignores Papacy

Who is the “little horn” in Dan. 7? Preterism says he came and went many long centuries ago. Futurism says he has yet to make an appearance. Most Protestants for centuries said the papacy was the little horn. Who is right?

Preterism claims the eleven horns of Dan. 7 reach no further than A.D. 100. Virtually everyone agrees the fourth beast in Daniel represents Rome in some way. But the agreement ends there. Preterism says the horns were the first eleven emperors of Rome. There are at least three ways the attempt is made to match these emperors with the details of Daniel’s prophecy:

1. Ten from Julius Caesar to Vespasian; Nero as the little horn.
Reply: Daniel says the little horn comes up after the ten horns (7:24). Since Nero is the sixth on this list of ten, he did not fulfill the prophecy; he came too early.

2. Ten from Augustus to Titus; Domitian as the little horn.
Reply: Daniel says the little horn subdues three of the ten horns (7:8, 24). Since Domitian did not subdue any of the previous emperors, he did not fulfill the prophecy.

3. Ten from Julius Caesar to Vitellius; Vespasian, the little horn.
Reply: Daniel says the little horn makes war on the saints (7:21). Since Vespasian did not persecute the Christians, he did not fulfill the prophecy.

There are other deficiencies in any attempt to limit the fulfillment of Dan. 7 to the first century. Daniel predicts four great empires, the fourth being Rome. The Roman Empire existed for at least five centuries. If the horns of the beast represented individual emperors, the beast would have had more than 50 horns! Moreover, why would God limit the predictions to a Nero or a Domitian, when they were only the beginning of the war Rome waged against Christianity? Preterism, like futurism, would limit the war on the saints to a mere three and one half literal years (“time and times and half a time” Dan. 7:25). That falls short by centuries of predicting Rome’s war against Christ.

The realities of history fit much better with the day-for-a-year key (Ezek. 4:6). (We all agree this key applies in Daniel 9.) Most Protestants, for centuries, saw the fulfillment of the fourth beast’s horns in the ten-fold-break-up of the Roman Empire, and the subsequent development of the Roman papacy. Hippolytus (A.D. 170-236) expressed clearly the sentiment of most, if not all, of the early Christian writers regarding Dan. 2 and 7, when he said: “the legs of iron, and the beast dreadful and terrible, expressed the Romans, who hold the sovereignty at present; the toes of the feet which were part clay and part iron, and the ten horns, were emblems of the kingdoms that are yet to rise; the other little horn that grows up among them meant the Antichrist in their midst” (Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, par. 28).

We cannot reduce the great enemy of the saints to a mere three and one-half years — whether future or past. We cannot ignore 1,900 years of church history in our effort to understand what God, through Daniel, was telling us about Rome.