This is a technical article that explores some of the controversy around the identity of different kings during end-time battles. It is best to read the article “The Antichrist’s Military Base is in Western Europe, “ before reading this article.
36 “And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. 37 He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. 38 He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these. A god whom his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. 39 He shall deal with the strongest fortresses with the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall load with honor. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price.
40 “At the time of the end, the king of the south shall attack him, but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. And he shall come into countries and shall overflow and pass through. 41 He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites. 42 He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, and the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train. 44 But news from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction. 45 And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him. (Dan. 11:36-45 ESV)
The section opens by describing the king who exalts himself, who is the end time Antichrist. However, there is some controversy surrounding this passage above.
Is the Antichrist attacked by both the king of the south and the king of the north (the “three-king” view)? Or is the Antichrist the same as the king of the north, who retaliates against an attack from the king of the south (the “two-king” view)? (1)
This controversy stems from who the “he” is at the end of verse 40. Does it refer back to the king who exalts himself, who is introduced in Daniel 11:36-39? Or does it refer back to the “king of the north” mentioned earlier in verse 40?
The three king-view is best, for a few reasons.
The Three-King View is Best
First, the Antichrist is a Roman prince who comes from an end-times Roman Empire. The Roman Empire eventually did cover some territory north of Israel, when it was at its greatest extent. However, if we had to summarize, we would not normally consider the Roman Empire to be the “king of the north” relative to Israel. If anything, it would be called “the king of the west,” since the Roman Empire originated in Europe. Nevertheless, the passage never uses this term, perhaps because the Mediterranean Sea is directly west of Israel, not the Roman Empire.
Second, the king who exalts himself is never called the “king of the north.” He is simply called “the king.” This would be uncharacteristic of the king of the north, because the earlier part of Daniel 11 uses the term “king of the north” liberally when referring to the leader north of Israel. (Daniel 11:6-15) Yet this term is totally absent from the description of the king who exalts himself. (Dan. 11:36-39)
Furthermore, the Antichrist’s precursor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is never called the “king of the north” either. (Dan. 11:21-35). This is unusual, because Antiochus ruled the kingdom that was previously led by the king of the north. Yet oddly enough, it does not call him the king of the north, despite the fact that he is discussed as having a relationship with the “king of the south.” This may be the case because Antiochus IV Epiphanes was not the natural successor to the northern dynasty. (2)
Third, the “him” mentioned in verse 44 is alarmed by news from “the east and the north.” It would be strange for the Antichrist to be alarmed by reports from the north if he is in fact the king of the north himself. This lends further evidence that the “he” at the end of Daniel 11:40 refers to the Antichrist, not the king of the north.
Finally, the pronoun “he” at the end of Daniel 11:40 doesn’t have to refer back to the closest antecedent in the passage. This happens elsewhere in the chapter. In Daniel 11:21-28, Antiochus IV Epiphanes is primarily described, as well as his relationship to the king of the south. The pronouns “he” and “him” consistently refer to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Yet this changes at verse 25, where the “he” pronoun switches to the “king of the south.” Nevertheless, verse 28 says:
And he shall return to his land with great wealth, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. And he shall work his will and return to his own land. (Dan. 11:28)
This “he” actually refers back to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, even though the most recent subject was the “king of the south.” Therefore, the pronoun “he” at the end of Daniel 11:40 need not refer to the closest subject, the “king of the south.” It is best understood as applying to the Antichrist. This makes the most sense, since the context of the battles is the king who exalts himself, introduced in the preceding verses.
- J. Paul Tanner, "Daniel's 'King of the North': Do We Owe Russia An Apology?" JETS 35:3 (Sept 1992): 315-28.
- Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. CO Springs, CO: Victor, an Imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, 2004. Old Testament Edition