Misunderstood Prophecy? The Increase of Travel and Knowledge (Daniel 12)

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One of the most common beliefs among Christians is that there will be an increase of travel and knowledge during the end times. This is thought to have been fulfilled with modern technology such as the automobile, space exploration, the internet, and all the other wonders of the modern, industrialized world. This prophecy occurs in the book of Daniel. Daniel 12:4 says, “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” (NIV). Probably the most popular translation of this sentence is “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (KJV).

Whichever translation you use, the most common understanding is that it is referring to the increase of technology just before and during the end times. However, could this interpretation of Bible prophecy be wrong? Some scholars think so. In order to see if this prophecy refers to what most believe we must understand the passage in its original context. Below is the entire twelfth chapter of Daniel. The most important points for our study are italicized:

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people–everyone whose name is found written in the book–will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there [to and fro] to increase knowledge.” 5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” 7 The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” 8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” 9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand. 11 “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the “1,335 days. 13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

The Meaning of “here and there” and the increase in knowledge

The chapter begins with a look at the tribulation (the time of distress) and judgment day (names written in the book and the resurrection of the dead). After this, the angel tells Daniel to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.” Right after this it is said that people will go here and there (to and fro) and that knowledge will increase.

As I said at the beginning of the article, it is common belief among most Christians that the “to and fro” and the increase in knowledge has been fulfilled today with modern technology. However, when understood in its context (the twelfth chapter in Daniel) it can be seen that the “to and fro” and increase in knowledge may refer to something entirely different.

The popular prophecy teacher, John Walvoord, notes that although increase in travel in the modern world makes sense concerning the meaning of verse 4, the context of the passage points more to “the search for knowledge” as being the main idea.[1] Walvoord is not the only scholar who thinks this way. The very popular evangelical minister John MacArthur says, “This Hebrew verb form [referring to the “to and fro”] always refers to the movement of a person searching for something.”[2] John C. Whitcomb and Leon Wood, in their commentaries on the book of Daniel, also believe that the “to and fro” has the meaning of people running around trying to find answers about the LORD, in particular to future events.[3]

How do they come to this conclusion? They are using Scripture to interpret Scripture. In this case, the main passage they are using to help them understand Daniel is Amos 8:12. Amos says, “Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it” (NIV). The King James Version translates “searching for the word of the LORD” as “they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD.”

Looking at Amos and Daniel, it seems that “The verb appears to describe a vain travelling in order to discover knowledge.”[4] Walvoord notes, “[W]hat the angel is saying to Daniel is that for the immediate future, attempts to understand these prophecies will be in vain, but in the time of the end, when these prophecies will become especially pertinent, additional understanding will be given.”[5]

Another passage also gives us a similar meaning for “to and fro.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth…” The NIV translates it as: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth…” It is clear that the meaning of the sentence is God searching for something (in this case, he is searching for people who are committed to him so he can strengthen their hearts).

Concerning the meaning of “to and fro” Walvoord notes, “Whether or not physical wandering and travel is involved, the implication is that attempts to understand the truth will require considerable effort.”[6] Joel Richardson summaries: “The running to and fro involves searching the book through and through, scrutinizing it over and over until at last, at the end of the age, the book is finally unsealed and fully understood by the believing community.”[7]

The meaning of the “to and fro” and the increase in knowledge are not fulfilled with contemporary technology, but points to people going here and there to increase their knowledge about Daniel’s prophecy.

To Conceal or to Preserve?

This seems like a good place to end our study of Daniel 12:4, yet there is a debate concerning the first part of the same verse. The first part of the verse says, “[C]lose up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.”  Verse 9 goes right along with this by saying, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.” There are two different interpretations concerning these two verses. Joel Richardson explains it well:

“There are two positions that scholars and commentators have been unable to agree upon on as to the meaning of this passage. Some claim that the prophecy is not ‘shut up’ or ‘sealed,’ but only preserved or kept safe for everyone. Others claim that in Daniel’s day, the book would be sealed, but understanding would gradually become more and more available to those believers who diligently and collectively study the book, though it would not ultimately be fully understood until the actual end-times.”[8]

Whitcomb and Wood, whom I referenced earlier, believe that the Hebrew word translated “close up” (or “conceal”) in verses 4 and 9 should be understood not as Daniel hiding the meaning of his book, but that it should be “preserved.” Whitcomb says, ““The same word translated here ‘conceal’ [close up] appears in 8:26 (‘keep the vision secret’). This cannot mean that the message is hidden, for our Lord told us to understand the book of Daniel (Matt. 24:15). Rather it means that Daniel was to protect and preserve this inspiring writing.”[9]

Daniel and the angel. Source: http://www.oneyearbibleblog.com/2013/12/december-2nd-one-year-bible-readings.html
Daniel and the angel. Source: http://www.oneyearbibleblog.com/2013/12/december-2nd-one-year-bible-readings.html

Wood translates verse 4 as “But you, Daniel, preserve the words and seal the book until the time of the end…” He says, “The sealing of the book does not mean that its message was to be hidden, but only maintained safely.” Concerning the increase in knowledge being the purpose of the running to and fro he says, “[This] view departs entirely from the thought of the purpose for Daniel preserving his book…A better interpretation, therefore, is to take the ‘knowledge’ here in view as that which is supplied by Daniel’s book, thus preserved.” He gives a paraphrase of the verse: “Many shall run to and fro in their desire for knowledge of the last things, and, finding it in Daniel’s book, because it will have been preserved to this end, their knowledge shall be increased.”[10]

The second view of Daniel 12:4, 9 interprets the closing up (or concealing) of Daniel’s prophecy as meaning that Daniel and his contemporaries did not fully understand the meaning of the revelation. However, as time would go on people would finally understand it. This makes the most since out of verse 9 since Daniel was told not to worry about the meaning of the prophecies because they are concealed or hidden until the end times. Walvoord summaries this view very well:

“In verse 9, Daniel is once again informed that the revelation given to him will not be completely understood until the time of the end…The primary purpose of the revelation, however, was to inform those who would live in the time of the end. The confirming interpretation of history and prophecy fulfilled would be necessary before the final prophecies could be understood…The prophecies thus revealed were to have primary application to those living in ‘the time of the end.’”[11]

What does the Antichrist have to do with this?

But why is there such a difference in understanding these verses? Richardson believes he has the answer, and it has to do with the identity of the Antichrist. The most common belief about the identity of the Antichrist is that he will come from a revived Roman Empire. This is, according to Richardson, the main reason why so many scholars believe that Daniel was to preserve his book, and not to conceal it. He quotes Ed Hindson and Tim Lahaye to make his point:

“Daniel is instructed to ‘conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time’…The terms ‘conceal’ (Hebrew, satam) and ‘seal’ (Hebrew, chatam) do not mean Daniel is to conceal these prophecies…Rather, because the prophecy is now complete, he is to ‘keep it intact’ and ‘carefully preserve’ the prophecies for future generations of his people.”[12]

However, Richardson has argued quite extensively that the Antichrist will come from the Middle East and be a Muslim. He argues that since the plain reading of Daniel 12:4, 9 is that Daniel was to conceal/hide the meaning of the prophecy until the end times, than the traditional meaning of the Antichrist would most likely be wrong since Christians have believed that the Antichrist would be a Roman for nearly two thousand years (this is not his only argument for an Islamic Antichrist). He also notes that this is why so many scholars must reinterpret the concealing of the book to mean that it was to be preserved.[13]

If the true meaning of the prophecy was not to be understood until the end times (the days of the Antichrist) this would mean that no one will know who the Antichrist is or where he will come from until the time of the end was very close. Since so many Christians have believed that the Antichrist would be from Europe and that this idea came along way before the end times, than it is probably wrong. A plain reading of Daniel 12:4, 9 seems to be telling us that the true understanding of the Antichrist would not be understood until the actual end times.

To go along with this idea is Matthew 24:15 which Whitcomb used earlier. According to him, the meaning of verse 4 has to be preserved because Jesus tells us to understand the book of Daniel. Jesus says, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand…”

I fail to see how this means that Daniel was to preserve his book. The idea that Daniel was to conceal his book means that knowledge about the meaning of the prophecies would grow over time, not that all of it would be hidden until the end. People during the time of Jesus understood that the Antichrist was coming, but that did not mean that they had a full understanding of him. The full meaning of the prophecy was still hidden from them (clearly since it was not fulfilled during their lifetimes).


By studying Daniel 12:4, 9 we learn a couple of things: 1) the meaning of the passage has nothing to do with modern technology; and 2) our pre-understanding of the end times, especially for the Antichrist, can affect how we read parts of the Bible. Whichever interpretation of the Antichrist is true; Daniel was simply referring to how people will study his prophecies to learn more about the future, not automobiles.


[1] John Walvoord. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971). 291.

[2] John MacArthur. The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005). 968.

[3] John C. Whitcomb. Daniel. Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1985). 164. Leon Wood. A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973). 321.

[4] E.J. Young. The Prophecy of Daniel. 258. Quoted in Walvoord, 292.

[5] Walvoord, 292.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Joel Richardson. Mideast Beast (Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2012). 141.

[8] Ibid., 140.

[9] Whitcomb, 164.

[10] Wood, 321.

[11] Walvoord, 291, 294.

[12] Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson. The Popular Bible Prophecy Commentary, 266. Quoted in Richardson, 140-141.

[13] Richardson, 139-143.

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