Monday, 16 January 2012

Daniel’s Vision of Jesus (Daniel 7)

This sermon was preached on 15/1/2012

As we can see from 7:1, the details described in Daniel 7 happened before the events that were the focus of Daniel 5 and 6. In Daniel 5, the time was the last year of Belshazzar’s reign whereas in Daniel 7 it is the first year of his reign. Belshazzar reigned for about a decade in Babylon as a co-regent with his father who spent most of the period away from the city.

Daniel 7 concerns a vision that Daniel had and the interpretation he was given. The vision has two parts to it: the first part concerns four unusual animals (vv. 2-8) and the second part concerns the beginning of the kingdom that God would set up (vv. 2-9). Daniel is told that the beasts will come out of the sea (v. 3), which is figurative language for the Gentile world. Each of the beasts is very powerful and aggressive, especially the fourth one. There are similarities between the four beasts and the four sections of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his earlier vision about fifty years previously and which Daniel had interpreted (Dan. 2), and most expositors take them as referring to the same four world empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.

The type of literature is apocalyptic and is not designed to be taken literally, so it is pointless to try and find particular fulfilment of every number and image that is mentioned. Some speculate as to who were the three ribs in the bear’s mouth, or who is signified by the four heads of the leopard. But more than one reasonable suggestion can be made from the historical information that is available, and it is impossible to give an exact application of such details.

Apocalyptic adds vividness to the message because it is directed to the eye as well as to the ear. It seems clear from the description of each beast that there will be horrid wickedness and cruelty in each empire, with the evil getting worse as times goes on. They behave like wild animals determined to get their prey. Even the fact that the fourth beast is not compared to an animal should alert us to the possibility that it will be an empire so evil and cruel that it cannot be likened to the worst of animals.

One may ask why Daniel was given a repeat set of information about the four coming empires. An answer is that a new king Belshazzar had taken over the rule of the first empire and perhaps Daniel needed assurance that God’s plan for the world was still in place. It could have been deduced from the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue that his kingdom would disappear when he did. Since he was gone and it yet remained, perhaps Daniel was given divine assurance that God’s plan was still in place. Whatever the reason for receiving it, Daniel was led by the Spirit to write it down for the benefit of God’s people, which includes us living after the four empires, and not just one of them, have come and gone.

A second reason would be an understanding that, no matter how powerful the human empires would be, God’s throne would remain intact and unthreatened by what was happening on earth. So Daniel was given a marvellous vision of the splendour of God’s throne and what takes place around it. Daniel was used to being around earthly thrones and their attendants, but he was blessed with a vision that told him about the greatness of the divine throne.

The heavenly courtroom
In the vision, Daniel is informed that there will yet be a great occasion in heaven during the period of the fourth earthly kingdom. He has seen how the fourth kingdom is going to be all powerful and boastful, yet it could not realise that its behaviour was not only being monitored in heaven but was being opposed by heaven (vv. 9-12). But Daniel was told that the time for judging it would come.

So the heavenly courtroom is described and immediately we should note its calmness in contrast to the upheaval that marks the four earthly kingdoms (they arise from a disturbed sea, v. 2). Everything about the heavenly courtroom is serene, especially the judge.

All the focus is on the splendour of the One who sits on the throne. We should note his title – he is the Ancient of Days. This is a reminder that his origin cannot be located, which is not surprising because he has no beginning. He is the eternal God.

Further he is a righteous judge, depicted by his white clothing and hair. His portable throne chariot is surrounded by fire, which describes his holiness. Surrounding the throne are countless servants (angels) ready to do his will.

Before him are the heavenly records of the events of earth containing the evidence of what each of the beasts have done. When God chooses to do so, the sentence is passed and they lose their power.

What a profound vision of a majestic God! It is good for our souls to gaze with wonder at who he and what he can do. The kings of the earth are not even as big as pygmies in his presence. But Daniel sees that there is One who can draw near to the throne of God.

The arrival of the Son of man (vv. 13-14)
In his vision, Daniel observes the arrival of an exalted figure – his mode of transport is the clouds. He is able to draw near to the Ancient of Days and is given from him universal and endless dominion. His empire is larger and will last longer than the previous rulers.

Who is the Son of man? The New Testament gives us the answer to this question. He is Jesus; indeed we know that he often called himself by this name. This is a reminder that he knew where he was going when he used this title of himself.

When did he receive his position of power? It was during the time of the fourth empire. Jesus received from God the Father the name that is above every name at his ascension from this world into the world of glory.

Jesus himself referred to this prophecy when he answered the question of the high priest in Matthew 26:63-66: ‘And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgement?” They answered, “He deserves death.”’

We should note that this kingdom was given to the Son of man. The one who gave it was the Ancient of Days. What did this kingdom involve? It involves all nations, so the kingdom that is being described here cannot be the church because many multitudes of people have never been subjects of his saving grace. The subjects of the kingdom here cannot be limited to converted people; nevertheless the emphasis is that Jesus is king over all humans and their nations. At the time of his coronation, the nations under his power were completely unaware that he was in control, and although he has ruled over all the nations since then they are unaware of it as well.

Are there other biblical passages that would support this universal rule of Jesus? There are, and one of them is the Great Commission in which Jesus claimed to have all authority in heaven and on earth, and not just in the church. Another reference is Ephesians 1:22, where Paul writes that Jesus is head over all things for the benefit of his body the church. There are also Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:25 that Jesus must reign until all his enemies are under his feet. Jesus himself said in John 5:26-27 that the Father had committed all judgement unto the Son because he is the Son of man. And in his prayer in John 17:2, Jesus rejoiced that the Father had given him authority over all flesh in order that he would give eternal life to his people. In Revelation 14:14, Jesus is entitled as the ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’ who fights against his rebellious subjects.

So there are many verses that teach the universal reign of the ascended Christ.

Some lessons
The first detail to observe is the amazing accuracy of God’s predictions regarding the world. Throughout the Old Testament there are hundreds of prophecies. Many of them have been fulfilled already, especially those given in connection to the first coming of Jesus, and their fulfilment encourages us to believe that the others will also be fulfilled. We should ask ourselves when reading a prophecy in the Old Testament, say about the fate of countries such as Edom or Tyre, if it has been fulfilled already. A decent Bible commentary will give you the information and such details will deepen your appreciation of God’s control of historical events.

A second lesson is the complete inability of world empires to overcome the kingdom of God. They often make war against the saints, yet cannot overcome them, even although they develop in intensity against the people of God. This is the case today as much as it was the case in the past. There is mystery here, in that the weak overcome the strong because of the King who rules for ever.

Third, we should be thankful that we live in the period in which Jesus rules from heaven’s throne. We know that he rules over two kingdoms: he rules over his church and he rules over the nations. Because of our circumstances caused by living in a country which does not recognise the second aspect, we are liable to forget that it is also as real as his rule over the church. Jesus is the universal Governor, and he works all things for the good of his church. Providence is in his hands.

Fourth, Daniel was informed that his hopes for the future had to be connected to Jesus, the one who would yet have universal power. Daniel’s hopes were not to be in the return of his people to their own land from exile, even although it would be a marvellous fulfilment of prophecy for which the returnees would praise God (Psalm 126). Instead his hopes were to be set firmly and only on Christ and what he would do once he had been given the place of highest honour. Similarly our hopes should not be built on what we can call lesser activities of God, whether in providence or even in prophecy (except in the sense that they encourage our faith and are divine activities). We are to look to Jesus and to his victory over all hostile powers.

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