Thursday 7 August
Daniel 7 – 8
God reigns over all the earth so it always makes sense to live for the living God. Even if everybody else is going in the opposite direction.
What would I have done?
Too often we forget that we are aliens and strangers on earth. We become ineffective, compromised Christians. How many 21st Century Western Christians would have taken the stand of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? How many Western Christians would have refused to go along with King Darius’ decree against prayer even when it meant risking the lions den?
It is not so much courage we need but faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb11:1). It was faith that led the heroes of old to say, “No” to the world. They looked beyond the fiery furnace, the lion’s den and the prison cell and that changed everything.
In Acts chapter 7, Stephen was being stoned and full of the Holy Spirit, he looked up and saw the glory of the Son of Man.
In Daniel 7, Daniel receives a vision of the Son of Man in His glory. This vision was designed to strength Daniel to stand firm. It seems easier to obey earthly authorities than to obey the Living God. But we need to look up and see heaven opened. We need to see beyond the visible.
Daniel 7 reads very differently from the historical narrative of the previous chapters. This is apocalyptic literature. It is as if the curtain of heaven is drawn back and hidden realities are revealed, great truths that we cannot see with natural eyes but are unveiled.
We should not get bogged down in the detail. This literature is designed like an impressionist painting. It is meant to be taken as a whole – as broad brush strokes which give us an overall impression.
Terrible times will come!
In his vision, Daniel is beside the sea, which represents disorder and chaos to the Jewish mind. Out of the swell four gruesome creatures emerge – fierce, fast and destructive!
We miss the point if we try and interpret every detail. We need to imagine the destructive power of these beasts. The four great beasts are four kingdom that will rise from the earth. These beasts are symbolic of human power – they represent different empires.
We should beware of two possible extremes:
- Overconfidence and dogmatism in interpreting the details
- Seeing this passage as a complete mystery.
Apocalyptic literature is meant to unveil and to reveal. Most commentators agree that the first beast represents Babylon. It appears less terrifying than the others. The reality is that human powers vary.
We are fortunate to live where we do. We might complain about our government but compared to many governments in the world, we are hugely blessed. Let’s not exaggerate the wickedness of human power.
But let’s not be naïve either. Every single part of us is affected by sin. Every form of government is bestial to some degree and some are worse than others.
There are various interpretations of the second, third and forth beasts – many have suggested they symbolise the Persian, Greek and then the Roman empires. Others suggest the Persian, Mede and Greek empires.
The vision of a Ram and the Goat in chapter 8 however is crystal clear!. The Ram is the King of the Medes and the Persians and the Goat is the King of Greece. There is a large horn on the Goat, which represents Alexander the Great.
Alexander died (the horn was broken) and his four generals took over (four horns) but the focus is on a small horn which represents Antiochus Epiphanes. He was a ruler who engaged in aggressive Hellenization – imposing Greek culture on his empire. The one place it did not work was in Israel because the Jews were committed to a particular way of life. As a result, Antiochus violently persecuted them. He forbade circumcision and other Jewish practices, he desecrated the temple and he killed around 100,000 people who did not comply.
Down through the ages there are many anti-Christ figures that have appeared – those who have set themselves up against God and violently persecuted His people. But at the end of time, there will be one terrible anti-Christ.
While various interpretations have been made, ultimately, both the beasts in chapter 7 and the “little horn” can be seen in every age throughout history. All human governments and secular organisations that are in opposition to the living God are described through these images.
The little horn in chapter seven represents the depravity of the human heart. How often human beings are corrupted by power. There is something of the little horn in all of us.
But we also see ourselves in the broken pieces crushed by the fourth beast. Those opposed to God hate the people of God. In every age, terrible times will come as human agencies seize and abuse power. There is something of comfort in the fact that the Bible says, “Don’t be surprised by this.” God has warned us in advance.
The Ancient of Days
The wonderful truth is that God is in absolute control. In centre stage, the Ancient of Days takes His seat. We have here a vision of God the Father. He has always been and always will be.
The Ancient of Days is still on His throne, surrounded by thousands upon thousands; ten thousand upon ten thousand. Be encouraged. God is in charge and He is permanently seated on the throne. The mystery of His sovereignty is that He reigns, even when terrible things are happening. It is a huge comfort.
The Son of Man
Here is the glorious truth that Jesus Christ is Lord! In Genesis 1 -2, it says that God created the world to be ruled by human beings, made in His image. At the fall, everything went wrong. God in His amazing grace promises to put things right and to restore His kingdom rule.
The Kingdom of God will come when God appoints a godly ruler – Jesus will have universal and eternal authority. When the carpenter from Nazareth began to speak publicly, his preferred title was the Son of Man.
One day, He will return. There will be terrible times before then but the outcome is not in doubt. When Jesus returns, the bestial rule of despots will be replaced by the perfect rule of the Son of Man. Only He can defeat evil.
Daniel was able to serve the pagan regimes. Like Daniel, some believers might even be able to influence human powers. We are to “render under Caesar” – paying our taxes, praying for and serving our human authorities with integrity knowing that one day all things will be made right.
It is a huge, lofty vision but there is a very down-to-earth application. In order to be faithful to God in a world that rejects Him we need faith rather than courage. We need to be able to see the hidden realities of His Kingdom.
Do you really believe these truths? When we face that crunch time, where will we look?
The world says your life consists in the abundance of your possessions. God says, look at the throne. Jesus Christ is Lord. That sets you free from trying to serve materialism and the relentless search for a better home or a better holiday. If you miss out on some of the things in this world, that is nothing compared to what is to come.
The world says, “You haven’t lived until you’ve had sex”. The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is Lord and He knows what is best. He has the authority to tell you how to live your life and He is not doing it to spoil your fun. He loves you.”
The world says status is dependent on how well you achieve things. The Bible says your identity in Christ. That sets us free from the slavery of desperately climbing in the ladder.
We need to see heaven opened and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.