I’m excited to be returning to the second half of the book of Daniel. The first 6 chapters contain dreams and exciting stories set in the courts of Babylon, and the second 6 contain visions, which Daniel receives, away from bustle of court life.
In the first half, big statements were made about God’s sovereignty, human power and history, but from the human perspective. The visions however, reveal things from an end of time or eternal perspective, showing us how God sees human power and history! And how we need that perspective to interact with our own!
Daniel 7 is the pivotal chapter of the book and it sheds light on three things:
Firstly, it reveals the two classic ways in which evil operates at any time in history.
Secondly, it causes us to do something quite unexpected – to look forward to Judgment Day.
And thirdly, it sheds fresh light on being human and why we’re here.
As a high-ranking official, Daniel has served Nebuchadzezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and will serve ‘til the first year of Cyrus. His dream in chapter 7 takes place back in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign, but it’s been placed in the second half of the book, to be alongside Daniel’s other visions.
Don’t be put off by the fantastic nature of Daniel’s dreams and visions. They are written in apocalyptic language and we’ve put a fuller definition in the newsletter that you can read and then keep in your Bibles for future reference. But essentially apocalyptic literature is symbolic – we’re familiar with a boxing kangaroo representing Australia, a lion and unicorn, Britain. In children’s stories, the king who hoards gold turns into a dragon and so on. So in Daniel’s dream, the beasts represent kings, v 17 tells us. The troubled sea in v 2, represents chaos. The beasts coming out of the sea look increasingly grotesque, representing increasing and varied evil.
Look with me at v 4 - the first one looks like a lion with eagles wings, but these are stripped and he’s stood up and given a human mind. This is Nebuchadnezzar, who God turned into a beast when he became proud, but was given back his human mind, when he looked toward heaven and God restored him. He had used his power in beast-like ways (remember how he forced everyone to bow to his golden statue or be thrown into the burning fiery furnace?) But he was also capable of true humanity when he acknowledged the sovereignty of God and acted under it.
The second bear-like beast in v 5, is a lazy, greedy consumer, and may represent the Medo-Persian Empire. The third in v 6 is a winged, leopard-like beast, with four heads – so it’s swift and smart, and may represent the Greek Empire. But perhaps it is unwise to be too specific, as evil rulers have resembled one or other of the beasts throughout history.
The fourth beast is ‘terrifying, dreadful and exceedingly strong’, v 7 says. It’s often associated with Rome, and it devours, breaks and stamps, being of a different order to the others with its 10 horns and one, little horn with eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly, v 8. And if we look forward to v 21, we see it has a target: it makes war on the holy ones and even prevails against them for a while.
We can now begin to see the first weapon with which evil operates in history – terror. All abuses of power terrify - from Nebuchadnezzar to the cruel Roman Emperor Nero, to Hitler, to Pol Pott, to IS, and from workplace bullying to domestic violence. People become less and less human the more we engage in over-using power. Creating terror, fear or intimidation, is a very effective weapon for getting things done, but it reduces us to something beast-like, lower than we were created to be.
But there’s a second weapon that evil uses, and the 4th beast is a master of it. It has a mouth that speaks arrogantly, and look at v11: it creates lots of noise with its mouth, right in God’s throne room. And look further at v 25 - it speaks words against the Most High and wears out the holy ones, even attempting to change the sacred seasons and laws (the things everyone knows to be right). Does its speech remind you of something? It’s arrogant, in your face, persistent in its speech against God, and it’s able to wear down the holy ones (the faithful people). It’s like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Its weapon is error - lies, untruths and half-truths to discredit God and wear out the faithful.
The Age newspaper has made use of this tactic over the last couple of years in the ‘noise’ it’s created against CRE/SRI. It has worn us down by its negative articles. Schools where SRI teachers are valued members of the school community, like they are at our local school, don’t rate a mention.
In fact the subtle weapon of error and half-truth has been effective in the West over the last couple of centuries in pushing the contribution of Christian thought out of public debates into the realm of private choice.
Let me explain - the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, for all the good that has come out of it, claimed that humans had come of age and outgrown God. By elevating the human capacity to think, especially to think scientifically, it discredited revelation as a conduit of truth. But there’s no inherent disharmony between knowledge obtained by science and knowledge obtained by revelation. Science uses repeated observation to gain knowledge. Revelation is knowledge made known from beyond the human capacity to observe. But to pit them against each other as mutually exclusive, creates confusion. To say that if human beings can’t observe something with our 5 senses, then it doesn’t exist, is a leap, an over-statement, but many have stumbled because of it.
Terror and error are the classic weapons of evil and we will face them all through our lives. Look at v 25 again – the holy ones of the Most High will be worn down, and the end of the verse says, ‘they shall be given into its power for a time, two times and half a time.’ This indicates a time of onset, an escalation, then an end. So there’s limitation, but the effects of terror or error, will at times feel overwhelming. We will sometimes appear weak from an earthly perspective.
Daniel’s own example within the dream, provides us with a model for when we’re feeling spiritually troubled and afraid. Look at v 15. Daniel’s terrified by what he’s been seeing, and asks to know the truth about it in v 16. And again in v 19 – he ‘desires to know the truth about the fourth beast’. He’s actively seeking the truth. Truth is the antidote to error and God wanted Daniel to know the truth about the powerful forms of human leadership that lay beyond his lifetime. And did you notice that Daniel wrote down his dream (see, in v 1)? It’s so people of faith like us, later in history, would have the same insights he’d been given.
And let’s turn to more of these insights, because they’ll comfort us and lift our heads - verses 9and10 - the throne room of the Ancient of Days – the Day of Judgment. Unlike the chaotic succession of kings in human history the Ancient of Days stands outside time. His white clothing represents perfect purity and his white hair, wisdom. His fiery throne indicates judgment, and his majesty is seen by the multiple thousands who serve and attend Him. The court has assembled for judgment and the books are opened.
Notice the physical order. The procedures are ordered. Everything about this vast scene seems under control, and the Ancient of Days is in control. And v 11 describes his swift judgment, brought down on the arrogant-tongued king, and the removal of dominion from the other kings. This is why we look forward to the Day of Judgment – because evil will cease, and terror and lies will be no longer.
But there’s more - look at verses 13 and 14 – not a beast rising from the sea, but ‘one like a son of man, coming in the clouds’. He’s presented to the Ancient One, and given dominion and glory and kingship, so that all peoples and nations and languages should serve him, forever.
Who is he? He’s a son of man – a son of Adam, that is, a human being. So far, only Nebuchadnezzar showed any signs of being human, and only when he recognized God’s sovereignty. But remember Genesis 1! Human beings were made in God’s likeness, and given dominion over creation. Remember Ps 8! It sparkles with what it means to be human: ‘God has made us a little lower than the angels, and crowned us with glory and honour, He’s given us dominion over all the works of His hands and put all things under our feet’. Yet the Psalm starts and finishes with the same words: ‘O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth’. To be human is to recognize God’s sovereignty, and serve him by taking up the dominion he’s given us over all the earth – to rule it as he would rule. To rule in any other way reduces our humanity and turns us into beasts.
So we have to ask daily questions of ourselves (as we go to work or school or uni): am I living under the sovereignty of God, living to please him, acting as he would?
The Son of Man who was presented to the Ancient One was gloriously and fully human. But did you notice he was coming in the clouds? Cloud throughout the OT represented God: the pillar of cloud, the cloud over Mount Sinai, so this Son of Man is also divine. So its no coincidence that Jesus takes the term ‘son of man’ and applies it to himself. In his earthly life he shows us what being truly human looks like. He places himself at all times in his father’s hands. He draws on the Father’s strength in prayer. He discerns evil. He forgives sin. He acts with compassion. He obeys the law. He teaches. He sacrifices himself.
In all the best stories ever written, the heroes and heroines have one or two of these qualities, but only the Son of Man who we meet in the Gospels and who is here presented before the Ancient of Days has them all in perfect measure. So to him is given the kingdom that will never be destroyed. This is where all human history is headed, and I think we are meant to yearn for it, to look forward to Judgment Day, when all wrong is put right.
Thirdly, why we’re here. We’re here to be increasingly human, more and more like sons and daughters of the Second Adam, who exercise dominion under God. Look at verse 27, it says the ‘holy ones’ will be given the kingdom and dominion. It will be their kingdom. They will rule the great and extensive and everlasting kingdom, and all dominions will serve them. It’s Genesis 1 and Ps 8 really happening! If we are the ‘holy ones’, if we have placed ourselves under the Ancient of Days, if we serve the Son of Man, we will have dominion to exercise.
But let’s be realistic, we will also suffer, while we wait for Judgment Day. Daniel is left terrified and pale in the final verse.
It isn’t easy being a Christian, but it’s good. At the end, we will be fully and gloriously human and there will be no evil.
So I encourage you today, not to be too easily intimidated or fooled by evil. To look forward to Judgment Day, and to live more humanly, by placing yourself under the Most High as your sovereign, and serving the Son of Man, to the end of your days.
2 Cor 3:18