In the ninth chapter of Daniel we find the following phrase:
“And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” (Daniel 9:26)
In context, this verse is a prophecy of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. It is almost universally believed to be a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and temple by the Romans in AD 70. The word prince in the phrase, “the people of the prince to come,” is often taken to be speaking of the Antichrist; in other words, it’s saying: “There is a prince to come far in the future (the Antichrist), but he won’t be around at the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Only his people will, and they will destroy the temple.” Therefore, this is often taken as a way to determine the nationality of the Antichrist. The idea is that all one has to do is determine the people who destroyed the temple in 70 AD, and that will reveal the people from whom the Antichrist comes.
If we accept this premise, it would seem the most natural method of interpretation would be that the Antichrist would somehow be associated with the Roman Empire since the Roman Empire conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD.
However, Islamic Antichrist proponents have suggested that, because the Romans used legions that were stationed in the east in the war with Jerusalem, a certain percentage of their recruits would have been from the areas in which they were based, i.e. the Middle East. They also point to a reference by Tacitus that the Roman army used some “Arab auxiliaries” in the same war. So the argument goes that since at least some of the Roman soldiers who destroyed the temple were from places like Syria and Turkey, perhaps Scripture is pointing to the ethnicity of the Roman soldiers in the “people of the prince” phrase as opposed to the empire that the soldiers actually fought for, which was Rome.
First let’s talk about the Arab auxiliaries that Tacitus mentions. Josephus actually tells us how many of them there were (about 6000); this is compared to the 60,000 men who participated in the war. So at most only 10 percent of the soldiers in 70 AD could have been considered non-Roman. It should be noted here that the reason people joined the auxiliaries was so they could be awarded Roman citizenship at the end of their term of service.
The other 54,000 men were all Roman citizens from the 3rd, 5th, 10th, 12th, 15th, and 18th Legions. Since it was required that a soldier must be a Roman citizen to be in the legionnaires, we can be pretty sure that these 54,000 men were, in fact, Roman citizens.
However, those who hold to the Islamic Antichrist theory claim that, of the 54,000 other troops, at least some of them must have originally been from places like Syria or Egypt because many of the Roman citizens who fought in the Jewish war were stationed in the those areas and there was sure to be a certain amount of recruitment from the Roman citizens within those eastern populations. For example, they will say, “Look at the 10th legion; it was stationed in Syria” (which contained a major military base for Rome in the East). Since this unit was based in Syria, they suggest that most of the legionnaires in the 10th were ethnically Syrian. There are a number of problems with this, but first I should mention that before and after the 10th legion was stationed in Syria, it was stationed in Judea. Using their logic, the 10th legion should have been primarily made up of ethnically Jewish soldiers since it spent a much longer time stationed in Jerusalem that anywhere else.
In truth there is no way for anyone to know exactly how many citizens from the 10th legion, or any other legion, were from the areas where they were stationed. Nobody has that information that I am aware of, but knowing what we do know about the legions, it is very likely that any division in that area at that time was comprised of Roman citizens from all over the Empire. It is true that Roman legions did recruit from the local populations where they were based as long as the recruits were Roman citizens. The citizenship requirement alone restricted local recruits to only the most wealthy or influential families in those regions; and the citizens they recruited from Syria, Egypt, or any other major Roman military hub were at least partly comprised of the sons of Roman soldiers born in those places during their fathers’ service. This was a very common practice.
Just because a Roman citizen was from Gaul, Spain, Britannia, or Egypt didn’t make them any less of a Roman citizen. It can be reasonably asserted that any member of the legionnaires, regardless of their place of birth, was a patriotic citizen who was very proud of that citizenship and would almost surely identify himself as a Roman.
In addition, the six legions that took part in the Jewish war were stationed in a variety of places, not just the Middle East, including those who came from a large military base in the Balkans (modern day Romania and Bulgaria).
It would be one thing if the Bible contained a clue that in this particular case (the only case in the Bible that I know of), we were to assume that the people of a kingdom should not be identified with the king or kingdom that they were obviously a part of but instead we are to look through very incomplete and inconclusive records about the ethnicity of each individual soldier in that army to determine what nation is being referred to in the Bible. I suggest that this theory is grasping at straws and that Roman soldiers are simply Roman soldiers.
I should mention another theory about this passage that, if true, means this verse is not giving us any information whatsoever about the nationality of the Antichrist.
When this verse says “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary,” it may simply be saying it was not Titus who ordered the destruction of the temple, but rather his people who disobeyed his orders and destroyed the temple and city. In almost any other conquest by the Romans, there would be no need to make this distinction. After all, if Titus or any other general ordered the destruction of something, he would be responsible for it, and it would be right for Scripture to put the blame on him. But the events of that day made it necessary to describe the destruction of the temple and city as not being by Titus, but instead by his people.
Josephus who was actually present at the battle with Titus, made it very clear that Titus did not order the destruction of the temple and city. In fact he went to great lengths to stop it from happening, but it happened anyway.
For example, Josephus quotes Titus in a meeting with his generals about what to do with the temple. This was because the Jews were using the temple as a citadel for a kind of last stand. Josephus says:
“But Titus said, that ‘although the Jews should get upon that holy house, and fight us thence, yet ought we not to revenge ourselves on things that are inanimate, instead of the men themselves’: and that he was not in any case for burning down so vast a work as that was, because this would be a mischief to the Romans themselves, as it would be an ornament to their government while it continued.”
Then, after Titus was informed that, despite his orders, the soldiers set fire to the temple, Josephus describes the following scene:
“And now a certain person came running to Titus, and told him of this fire, as he was resting himself in his tent after the last battle; whereupon he rose up in great haste, and, as he was, ran to the holy house, in order to have a stop put to the fire…. Then did Caesar, both by calling to the soldiers that were fighting, with a loud voice, and by giving a signal to them with his right hand, order them to quench the fire. But they did not hear what he said, though he spake so loud, having their ears already dimmed by a greater noise another way; nor did they attend to the signal he made with his hand neither, as still some of them were distracted with fighting, and others with passion. But as for the legions that came running thither, neither any persuasions nor any threatenings could restrain their violence, but each one’s own passion was his commander at this time.”
Josephus offers still more descriptions of the events of that day:
“Moreover, the hope of plunder induced many to go on, as having this opinion, that all the places within were full of money, and as seeing that all round about it was made of gold.… And thus was the holy house burnt down, without Caesar’s approbation.”
If the Scripture had said that the prince— that is, Titus in this view— destroyed the temple, it would have been factually inaccurate. Instead, it says “the people of the prince” destroyed it. You can see why this would be an important distinction to make given the circumstances, and I should point out that this view reveals this verse to be a very accurate prophecy by Daniel.
The “to come,” as in “the people of the prince who is to come,” is therefore from Daniel’s perspective, as this prince (Titus) was almost five hundred years in the future at the time Daniel wrote. But for us looking back, that prince to come has already come.
This in no way conflicts with the rest of this prophecy requiring a future fulfillment, as it is clear that the next verse (Daniel 9:27) is talking about the future actions of the Antichrist. I discuss this in much greater detail in my book False Christ.
In conclusion, there is no way to confirm where the Roman citizens who made up 90 percent of the forces that day were born, but to suggest that they were all products of the base in which they were stationed at the time is just wishful thinking on the part of the Islamic Antichrist proponents. Even if it were the case, why should we believe that those Roman soldiers are not to be understood as Romans in this case simply because they came from various ethnic backgrounds? What if we applied this method of interpretation to other empires in the Bible? For example, after the Assyrian Empire conquered a country, they simply forced people to fight in their army or die, but when we hear about Assyrian armies in Scripture, we do not have to stop and think, “Well, where were the Assyrian soldiers in this particular battle stolen from originally?” No, we simply accept that Assyrian soldiers are part of the Assyrian Empire regardless of where they were born.
I believe that for futurists like myself, there are only two possibilities to the reference, “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” Either the prince is referring to the Antichrist, in which case the reference to the “people” is to the Romans who destroyed the temple. Or it is talking about how Titus didn’t want the temple destroyed but his people did it anyway, in which case this verse was never intended to tell us where the Antichrist comes from.