War in the Heavenlies

Growing up I was taught that there was only one reality and that was the physical realm. All of life – the planets and the stars and plants and people – they are all just atoms and molecules and energy. Even human thought and consciousness is just subatomic particles banging into each other. There is no God or Satan. There is no heaven or hell. It’s all a myth.

When I became a Christian, that whole thing got blown out of the water. I learned there was a spiritual dimension to life that operates in continuity with the natural world. This dimension is invisible to the human eye, so most people don’t believe it exists. Not only does it exist, but the events in the physical are shaped by what is going on in the spiritual realm.

This means the majority of people see only a fraction of what is really going on in the world. They turn on the 6’oclock news and hear about what’s going on with the European Union or about the latest trade embargo and they think they are well informed. But they only know half of it. Behind all of this there is a cosmic struggle between forces of good and evil. All around us there are powerful spiritual beings are locked in a kind of mortal combat – the kingdom of darkness at war against the kingdom of light.

There’s a place in the Bible where the curtain is pulled back, just a fraction and we get a view of this. Daniel is praying and fasting over the discouraging events that had transpired with his people. A decree had been issued by the King of Persia allowing the Israelites to return and rebuild the temple. Only a portion returned and when they got there, they were harassed, they were mocked, they were scorned, and finally another decree was issued, and the work came to a halt altogether.

While he is praying, he is interrupted by a heavenly messenger – an angel, says to him,

“Don’t be afraid, Daniel… for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.” (Daniel 10:12)

So why has it taken so long for this angel to come? Why the delay? He gives the answer:

“The prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” (v.13)

Who is this prince of Persia? Persia was the kingdom ruling at that time. The human leader was Cyrus. So who is this? This is a spiritual being – a high ranking demon. He is one of Satan’s emissaries, and his job is to control and order the affairs of Persia so they work against the plans and purposes of God. He’s trying to stop God from carrying out his plan.

Satan has an incredibly clever organization. There was a demon assigned to Persia. Later in verse 20 the angel says there’s a demon assigned to Greece. That means there must also be demonic beings attached to countries today such as China and North Korea and America. There are demonic beings attached to this country and its government. They are busy at work influencing the affairs in the beehive and our universities and our schools. And they are doing everything to thwart the purposes of God and particularly the advance of the gospel and the growth and vitality of his church.

Personally, I found all this be a real wake-up call. We really are in a war. And I, as a Pastor, am likely to be a target. So what does this mean for all of us? What significance does all this have on our personal lives as well as the lives of those around us? I have five things:

1. There is more angelic and demonic activity in this world than we know

There is more demonic control and influence among world governments than we realize. When you are watching the 6’oclock news, realize there are spiritual forces in the heavenlies at work in the events you are seeing. There are demons assigned to world leaders, countries and continents. There is a supernatural cause behind every effect.

2. Every Christian is involved in a great spiritual conflict

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in a war. You are in a cosmic battle, for the souls of men and women and the kingdom of God. Satan has demons assigned to nations, provinces and even churches. There is likely a demon assigned to your church or at least your area of churches. There are demons assigned to pastors and church leaders.

This is not a game. This is war. The eternal destiny of the souls of men and women and children depend on the faithful testimony and vitality of our lives. We are not here to make lots of money so we can live a comfortable life and retire eating ice cream on luxury cruise liners. We’re on a battlefield. And it’s time some of us woke up.

3. When we pray, we are setting ourselves in direct opposition to demonic activity in the world

When Daniel prayed for the discouraged returnees he was interceding on their behalf, and the answers to his prayers were greatly opposed by demonic forces. When we pray for God’s work, when we pray for missions, when we pray for the progress of our church when we pray for spiritual breakthroughs in the lives of others, we’re setting ourselves in direct opposition to Satan’s agenda. That’s why prayer is sometimes hard work. It requires discipline, commitment and perseverance.

4. Answers to prayer are sometimes delayed because of unseen spiritual warfare

It’s no accident that the messenger said that his struggle with the prince of Persia lasted exactly the same amount of time that Daniel’s fasting and prayer did —21 days. The reason for this is that the warfare in the spirit realm was being fought in a real sense by Daniel in the prayer realm. How all that work I don’t know. But we do know he wasn’t praying to angels. He was wrestling in prayer TO GOD for the things that were in line with God’s will for his people and for the world. We should do the same.

5. The prayers of God’s people can influence the events of history

Prayer is a powerful weapon. Mary Queen of Scots said that she feared the prayers of John Knox more than she feared an invading army. That should encourage us all to pray more shouldn’t it?

How is your prayer life?
Are regularly praying for the leaders of this country?
Do you pray for our politicians?
Are you praying for the nations in the 10/40 window?

There are several great prayer apps you can download. I use Operation World – it gives me one country to pray for per day. You might also want to check out Joshua Project which has you praying for one unreached people group per day. There are many other useful tools like this available.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. The most powerful demons are rendered powerless by the smallest child who prays in Jesus’ name.

Don’t underestimate your puny prayers. They are offered up to a powerful God.

This post was based on a sermon by the same title. It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

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The Son of Man

Daniel 7 is one incredible chapter of the bible. It provides a grand vision of world history from the time of the Babylonian Empire until the full arrival of the kingdom of God. One commentator asserts, “Once convinced of the truth this chapter is proclaiming, the reader is in possession of the key to history.”

The chapter opens with a vision of a restless, raging sea. It is a picture of sinful humanity: unstable, dark, chaotic and in a constant state of unrest and turmoil. Then out of this sea come four huge beasts. The beasts represent nations at war with each other and in rebellion against God. The fourth beast is more terrifying than the other and incredibly strong, with iron teeth that devour and crush (verse 7). From it comes 10 horns, which represent powers or world leaders. Another horn, a little one came up from among them. It has eyes of a human and mouth that speaks arrogantly. His identity is revealed later in the chapter. He is the Antichrist, who wages war against God’s people and prevails over them (verses 21, 25).

But right in the centre of the chapter, Daniel is given another vision. He sees something of far greater significance. Daniel is given a vision of the throne room of God. It is from this throne that the sea and the beasts and the little horn are being controlled.

“As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire.” (Dan 7:9)

Up to this point God had been working behind the scenes, but now we see him in his splendour. Now we see who is in control of the universe. In the midst of chaos and havoc and impending disaster Daniel is shown that ultimate authority does not reside in Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome. It is in the hands of almighty God. And it’s the same today. Ultimate power is not centred in Moscow, London or Washington D.C. It’s in heaven.

His clothing was white like snow, symbolising his purity. The hair of his head is also white, “like pure wool” and his throne a flaming fire. It’s a picture of white-hot holiness. His throne is described as having wheels – always moving, never in one place. There is no place to hide from God; no place to escape his judgment.

Then, as Daniel watches, “the court was convened, and the book were opened” (verse 10). It’s a picture of final judgement. There is coming a day, at the end of history, when God will summon everybody to his courts. Daniel is seeing that day. The books will be opened. There in the books is a record of every thought, every word, and every action any of us have ever done. Everything, from the smallest individual act to the greatest of human atrocities is laid bare before the holy, pure and perfect God. This is the day of judgement. And it’s marked down on God’s heavenly calendar. It is not an appointment you can cancel, postpone or miss.

But the vision hasn’t finished yet. Daniel is shown more. We come now to some of the most famous verses of the bible, the vision of the Son of Man:

“I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven…” (Dan 7:13)

That term, “son of man” is used in the bible of humanity in general – Psalm 8, “what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you remember him” (v.4) and of the king of Israel in particular, such as in Psalm 80. But there is a different individual altogether pictured here.

“He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13–14)

This is no mere human figure. No man can approach the Ancient of Days. No mere mortal is given all dominion and glory and all peoples, nations and languages worship. This individual is both human and heavenly.

It should be of no surprise to us then, that the favourite title that the Lord Jesus used for himself and referred to it over and over again was the Son of Man. It should be of no surprise that Jesus would say to Nathaniel, who was shocked that Jesus knew every detail of his life,

“You will see greater things than these… Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)

Nor should it be a surprise when, at his trial, the high priest demanded Jesus to tell him if he was the Messiah, the Son of God, that Jesus would answer him,

“You have said it… But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt 26:64)

The Son of Man is none other than the Jesus Christ. He came into this world as a man and offered himself up in our place to die for our sin. After his death, was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead. Jesus told his disciples that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to him (Matt 28:28). And so he sends us into all the world, to make disciples of all nations, so that every nation, tongue, tribe and language group will give him the honour he deserves.

Conclusion

So, what should be our response to what we have learned today?

Firstly, let us make sure we belong to the right kingdom. Every living person belongs to one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of Satan or the kingdom of God. If you are living for yourself and for the things of this world, you are in the wrong kingdom. You need to turn to Jesus today, tell him you are sorry for your rebellion and sin, and trust him as your Saviour-King. Then you will be ready when he comes to reign as King over this world.

Secondly, let us aware that we are living in troubled times. The stage for all end-time events is being set and time is running out. This is not the time for God’s people to be at ease, enjoying the comforts of this world. It may not be long before the final battle between Satan and Christ. The door to God’s kingdom will then be shut. We cannot sit by and do nothing – not with souls of men and women heading for a lost eternity. Let us do everything we can to warn them and woo them into the kingdom. We must not spare any effort to get the job done.

And then thirdly, let us not worry about the changes that are taking place in our world today. Let us not give a toss about rising oil prices and climate changes. Let us not be fearful about earthquakes, tsunamis and terrorist attacks. God is on the throne. His Son Jesus has been given all dominion. We may face persecution and even death, but as Daniel himself was assured,

“The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” (Daniel 7:27)

This post was based on a sermon called “The Son of Man” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

70 weeks. 3 days. 1 message.

It’s the hardest passage of Scripture in the Bible. I’m betting my money on it. And I had a little over 3 days to try and figure it out and then teach it to my congregation.

I’m referring to Daniel 7:24-27, also known as “Daniel’s 70 Weeks”. These four short verses are some of the most difficult in the Old Testament and have provoked countless debates that show no sign of abating.

To add to my affliction, it is also the central text for dispensationalists[1]. This is where they get their 7-year tribulation, future temple and pre-tribulation rapture from. This passage is serves as the lynchpin for their entire system. I knew there were a number of those who would be sitting there on Sunday. And they would be watching to see what I would do with this.

Here’s the passage in its simplicity (how I wish):

Daniel 9:24–27 (CSB)

24 Seventy weeks are decreed
about your people and your holy city—
to bring the rebellion to an end,
to put a stop to sin,
to atone for iniquity,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to seal up vision and prophecy,
and to anoint the most holy place.

25 Know and understand this:
From the issuing of the decree
to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
until an Anointed One, the ruler,
will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.
It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat,
but in difficult times.

26 After those sixty-two weeks
the Anointed One will be cut off
and will have nothing.
The people of the coming ruler
will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end will come with a flood,
and until the end there will be war;
desolations are decreed.

27 He will make a firm covenant
with many for one week,
but in the middle of the week
he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering.
And the abomination of desolation
will be on a wing of the temple,
until the decreed destruction
is poured out on the desolator.

Verse 24 literally reads, “seventy sevens” or seventy units of seven. The question however, is a unit of seven what? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? That’s just the start of it. Here’s a list of the interpretive calls that I had to make:

  • How long are the “weeks”? Are they exact seven-year periods, are they symbolic, or are they approximations?
  • When do the seventy weeks begin?
  • What (or who) is the “most holy place” (v. 24)?
  • Who issued the word (or “decree”) to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and when (v. 25)?
  • Who is the “anointed one” (v. 25)?
  • Does the “anointed one” come after seven weeks, or after seven-plus-sixty-two weeks (v. 25)?
  • Who is the “anointed one” who is “cut off, having nothing” (v. 26)? Is it the same as the anointed one of v. 25, or someone else?
  • Who is the “coming ruler” (or “prince to come”) whose people destroy the city and sanctuary (v. 26)?
  • Is there a chronological “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week?
  • Who is the “he” who makes the “strong covenant” (v. 27)? Is it referring to the anointed one, or to the coming ruler?
  • What is the abomination of desolation (v. 27)?
  • When do the seventy weeks end?

Where do you start? Well, it’s good to remember the three most important words for any bible interpretation: 1. Context, 2. Context, and 3. Context. If you don’t understand the context, you’ll go off on all kinds of tangents. What is the context of verses 24-27? Answer: Daniel’s prayer in 9:1-19. I believe that is the most overlooked factor in this passage. Daniel’s prayer, along with its answer is the key to everything.

The chapter opens with Daniel with his nose in the bible (actually the scrolls, as there was no bible back then). He’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 25:11 there is a prophecy that tells the Israelites what’s going to happen. They will be taken into captivity by the King of Babylon and serve him for 70 years. Then, later in Jeremiah 29:10-11 God says:

“When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place.”

God is promising after 70 years of exile he is going to restore his people to their land and he’s going to show favour to them once again. Daniel does some quick math and realizes those 70 years are nearly up. And what does he do? He’s starts praying! What’s he praying for? He’s praying for restoration – not just back to the land, but back to God. The only way that can be fulfilled in Daniel’s mind is by getting back to Jerusalem and back in temple where sacrifices can be made to restore this broken relationship.

And it’s while this prayer is being made, while he’s pouring out his heart to God that Gabriel suddenly appears, interrupts his prayer and gives him the answer. Daniel’s eyes have been fixed on the end of the 70 years of exile and a return to the land. But Gabriel shows Daniel that God has a far more extensive plan that goes beyond a return to the land. “Don’t just think 70 years, Daniel. But 70 Sevens.” God’s timescale is bigger than Daniel ever imagined.

Here is a basic schematic view of the prophecy (complements of Kyle Dillon of the Westminster Academy):

We have “seventy units of seven” broken down into three periods:   7   6   1   Gabriel then informs Daniel within this “seventy-seven” period six things will take place, which are listed in verse 24:

1. Rebellion will end
2. Sins will be brought to an end
3. Atonement would be made for iniquity (or sin)
4. Everlasting righteousness will be established
5. Vision and prophecy will be sealed up
6. The Most Holy Place will be anointed

The chart below shows the possible options (in tan colour) regarding the decree sent out (v.24), the Anointed One (v.26) and the city and sanctuary being destroyed (vv.26-27):

While the details vary from interpreter to interpreter, the options can generally be boiled down to three major views: 1) Preterist, 2) Dispensationalist, and 3) Covenantal–Futurist (there’s a fourth – the Maccabean–Typological, but I’ll leave that out for brevities sake).

The preterist view (from the Latin praeter, which means “past” or “beyond”) considers the prophecy to have been fulfilled by AD 70. By interpreting the “weeks” symbolically, preterists have more flexibility in determining the dates of the events predicted. The “anointed one” in both v. 25 and v. 26 is Jesus, who is also regarded as the one who confirms the “firm (or strong) covenant” of v. 27, and whose atoning work rendered the Jewish sacrifices obsolete. The Roman General Titus is the “prince to come,” whose armies destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here’s what it looks like:

The dispensationalist view interprets the weeks as exact seven-year periods. By starting with one of the decrees of Artaxerxes – either in 458 BC (Ezra 7:11-26) if one uses a 365-day calendar, or in 445 BC (Neh. 2:1-8) if one uses a 360-day calendar, they arrive at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in 33 AD for the end of the sixty-ninth week. However, the events of the seventieth week clearly did not take place in the seven years following Christ’s death, which is why dispensationalists put a “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. This parenthesis (unforeseen by Daniel) will come to an end with the Rapture (also unforeseen by Daniel), which will then lead into the seven-year Great Tribulation, during which time the Antichrist will make a pact with the nation of Israel, only to break it after 3 1/2 years and desecrate the rebuilt Temple. Here’s what it looks like:

The problem I have with this view is, as you can see, the “Great Parenthesis.” Where did they get this from? It’s not in the text, nor is it found anywhere else in Scripture. It appears to be arbitrarily inserted, so as to make the system work. Dispensationalists read verses 24-27 in a sequential, chronological order. But another way to looks at these verses is to view them as a progressive (rather than sequential) unfolding of the future:

Verse 24 covers the entire period – ’70 sevens’
Verse 25 contains the first 69 (62 + 7) sevens
Verse 26 describes the final seven in general terms
Verse 27 describes the final seven in specific terms

That would bring to you the third view which is described below:

The covenantal-futurist view is a blend (of sorts) of the preterist and dispensationalist views. Like the preterists, covenantal futurists take a more symbolic reading of the weeks, but like the dispensationalists, they see some aspects of the prophecy as still awaiting fulfilment. They consider the events of AD 70 to have fulfilled the first half of the seventieth week, but the second half of the seventieth week represents the entire church age up to the present. They still anticipate a future Antichrist who will persecute the church. Here’s what it looks like:

In my message I covered the dispensational and covenantal future views. They differ mostly in the last “seven” or the seventieth week (verse 27). One projects verse 27 into the distant future (the 7-year tribulation and the antichrist) while the other views the last “week” in a telescopic way to refer to the church age up until Christ’s second coming.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the result. Given a second chance I would handle that differently. A few people were left rather bamboozled!

It certainly got our people thinking however. And I mean, really thinking. One individual commented afterwards, “I’ve never looked so hard for so long at so few verses.” That’s good. That’s what God wants us to do with his word. In his very helpful book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals John Piper has a chapter called Brothers, show your people why God inspired hard texts. He asks the question, why has God placed such difficult passages in his book?  His answer: to train us to pray earnestly (for understanding), read well and think hard.  He writes,

“Education is helping people understand something that they don’t already understand. Or, more accurately, education is helping people (young or old) learn how to get an understanding that they didn’t already have. Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a book with complex demanding paragraphs in it.”

This passage was both complex and demanding. And although it was jolly hard work, I am thankful for it.

Note: if you’re really keen you can have a listen to my message on this passage here.  We also recording a Q & A session after the message which you can listen to here

[1] Dispensationalism is a theological system that is a built on a consistent literal interpretation of the bible and views Israel and the church as being separate and distinct in God’s program. Dispensationalists believe in a future 1000-year reign of Christ on earth (where all the promises made to Israel in the OT will be literally fulfilled), and a return of Christ in two phases – a rapture and second coming. They also believe the 70th week in Daniel 9:24-27 refers to the future 7-year tribulation described in Revelation chapters 6-19.

 

Wild things

If you’ve spent any time with children, you know how much they love picture-story books. Kids love stories and they love pictures. When you put the two together, the story bursts into life. One picture-story book I loved as a kid was Where the Wild Things Are. It’s about a young boy named Max who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks havoc through his household and his sent to bed by his mother without his supper. Then Max’s bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he sails to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wild Things.” After the lights were turned off, I would picture these great beasts stomping around my room. And I, like Max, would tame them with a magic trick and they would call me the most wild thing of all.

Daniel chapter 7 has a lot of similarities. Here we have pictures of great beasts rising out of the sea with animal-like features, roaring and thrashing about the place, and a terrifying beast with iron teeth that devoured and crushed. But this is no story-picture book for boys. It is an account of a vision given to Daniel by God. In this vision, Daniel is given an entire panorama of world history from the time of the Babylonian Empire until the end, with the arrival of the kingdom of God.

Understanding Apocalyptic Genre

There are some who approach Daniel 7 (as they do with other prophetic literature) like it’s an end-time jig-saw puzzle and they attempt to chart it all out on a futuristic time-line. But in taking this approach they missed the purpose for which apocalyptic books such as Daniel and Revelation were given. Daryl Block, in Preaching Old Testament Apocalyptic, explains:

“the intention of apocalyptic is not to chart out God’s plan for the future so future generations may draw up calendars but to assure the present generation that—perhaps contrary to appearance—God is still on the throne and that the future is firmly in his hands.”

Who was this written to? Who was Daniel’s immediate audience? God’s oppressed people – the exiles in Babylon. It was written to give them encouragement and hope. Despite everything they saw around them, God was still on the throne. That’s what we’ve been seeing in the first six chapters. The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den teach us that God is in control and is able to overcome impossible odds. Well now, in chapters 7-12, that same theme is pressed deeper. We move from human evil to the spiritual forces that lie behind them.

The Beasts of the Sea (1-8)

Daniel sees the four winds of heaven stirring up a great sea. In the Bible the sea is a symbol for chaos, disorder, and hostility to God. This is a picture of the sea of sinful humanity – unstable, chaotic and in a constant state of unrest and turmoil (Psalm 2:1; 65:7; 93:3–4). Then out of this sea come four huge beasts. Who or what are these? The answer is given in verse 17: they represent four kings who will rise from the earth. So, these beasts represent nations or empires opposed to God.

Back in chapter 2 King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. In that dream he saw a giant statue made up of four different metals: gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel explained to the king that Babylon was the head of gold. But Babylon would be replaced by another kingdom, the Medo-Persian Empire. And this kingdom in turn would be replaced by another, the Greek Empire. And finally, the Roman Empire. Well this dream of Daniel replicates Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. The two are connected.

The first beast, we are told in verse 4, was like a lion but had eagle’s wings. This represents Babylon, the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Statues of lions with eagles’ wings lined the streets of Babylon. Winged lions also guarded the gates of royal palaces. They were emblems of the Babylonian power. As Daniel was watching, “its wings were torn off” – reminding us of how Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by God in chapter 4. “It was lifted from the ground, set on its feet like a man, and given a human mind” – reminding us of his restoration to sanity.

Then suddenly another beast appears, and it is depicted as a ravaging bear (verse 5). This has reference to the Medo-Persian empire, the chest of silver in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But there is something odd about this bear. It is lopsided – one side is raised up above the other. Some commentators suggest this has reference to the unbalance of the Medo-Persian empire; Persia being the dominant power. It was commanded “Get up! Gorge yourself on flesh.”

Then another beast appears. It is like a like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back (verse 6). A leopard, as we know, is one of the fastest animals in the animal kingdom. With the addition of four wings, speed is increased further. This represents the kingdom of Greece, ruled by Alexander the Great. Alexander’s lust for world dominion was legendary. By the age of 32 he had conquered the entire Medo-Persian Empire all the way to India. The four heads could very likely represent the four generals who ruled after Alexander’s untimely death – Seleusus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander.

Notice a common theme with all of these beasts – none of them act independently, they are all governed by an external power. The lion was lifted from the ground and given a human mind. The bear was told to feed. The leopard was given dominion. It is God who directs these beastly empires. He removes kings and establishes kings (Dan 2:21). He is ruler of human kingdoms and gives them to anyone he wants (Dan 4:25, 32).

Then, in verse 7 we have the fourth beast, which is the most terrifying of all. Daniel says it was different from all the others and “frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong.” This beast is unique. It has great iron teeth which it uses to break everything in its path. What is left is stamped and crushed by its feet. If everything else I’ve said so far is correct, this represents the might and power of Rome.

The Little Horn (15-28)

But then, as the vision progresses further, things tend to become more elusive and obscure. This fourth beast has 10 horns (verse 7). Then suddenly, “another horn, a little one, came up among them.” This horn had “eyes like the eyes of a human and mouth that was speaking arrogantly” (verse 8). So what is this all about?
Well it’s at least comforting to know that Daniel is no less confused than we are. He comes back to it later in the chapter and he asks for clarification. He is given an answer in verse 23,

“The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, different from all the other kingdoms. It will devour the whole earth, trample it down, and crush it. The ten horns are ten kings who will rise from this kingdom. Another king, different from the previous ones, will rise after them and subdue three kings. He will speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High…” (Dan 7:23–25)

So, the 10 horns represent 10 kings. But which 10 kings are we talking about? There have been many nations and kings since Rome. Some commentators believe the Roman empire is still going. The 10 kings represent the 10 nations in the EU. Except that there are now 28 nations in the EU with one major player – Britain, about to pull out. I don’t think we can really say the Roman empire still exists. Rome, for all intense and purposes fell in 476 BC. Others say the 10 horns represent 10 kings or kingdoms across time, since the fall of Rome. Well, there has been a great number of nations and kings since Rome. Which ones in particular are we talking about? Others say it is the Roman empire renewed. However, verse 11 tells us it is killed, and its body is destroyed while the other beasts live on. So how does that work?

I have another explanation. I don’t think we are supposed to know the identity of the 10 horns and 10 kings. That’s not the point of the vision. Apocalyptic literature tends to work in regular, recurring patterns. Have a listen to another vision in Revelation 13:

“And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads. On its horns were ten crowns, and on its heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority.” (Rev 13:1–2)

Sound familiar? And yet in this vision, all four images refer to one kingdom. These images – images of evil and rebellion against God, cross barriers of space and time. And so, though these beastly images in Daniel 7 speak to empires in Daniel’s day, they also speak of ungodly empires in every day.

Think about the symbols used by nations today – the Russian bear, the American eagle, the Chinese dragon. Throughout history we have seen evil forces at work and kingdoms rising above one another – each one fighting for position of top dog. Think of the speed of Germany’s tank force in the Blitzkrieg in the second world war. It was unsurpassed. Think of the merciless rule Stalin exerted in the former Soviet Union and the millions who suffered under his reign. When I visited Rome, I saw the remains of the Coliseum and thought about the amount of innocent blood splashed under that regime. Nations in every age seize any opportunity they can to expand their borders, stockpile weapons, encourage economic aggression, crushing anyone who stands in their way.

But it is this “little horn” that troubles Daniel the most – the one with a mouth that speaks arrogantly (verse 20) and wages war against God’s people and prevails over them. Who is this? Some believe this to be Antiochus Epiphanes, Greek king of the Seleucid Empire. He was known for his brutal persecution of the Jews, which precipitated the Maccabean revolt. Some see it referring to Rome’s Caesars and others the rise the Papacy. But most bible scholars today believe the little horn refers to the Antichrist, also known as “the man of lawlessness.” Daniel is told in verse 25 that he, “will speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High.” In other words, he will attack God and the people of God. Paul writes about him in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:

“He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God.” (2 Thess 2:4)

There’s his attack on God. Then Paul writes,

“The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing.” (2 Thess 2:9–10)

There’s his attack on the people of God. So what Daniel sees in the future is repeated by the Apostle Paul. There will be many who oppose God and oppress His people. They are all forerunners of a final individual who will be the personification of absolute evil – the Antichrist.

So, what are God’s people to do? How are they to respond? With fear and trembling and dread? Are things going to spiral out of control? What would keep Daniel and his fellow exiles from giving up? What will keep us from giving up?  Only one thing: a clear vision of God on his throne overruling all things.

That is the very vision that God gives to Daniel, right in the middle of this chapter. It is thrilling and compelling. We are going to take a look at that next time.

This post was based on a sermon called “The Son of Man” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

In the Lion’s Den

The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in all the Bible. It is filled with unexpected twists and turns, corrupt bureaucrats, ferocious lions, and a foolish king who ends up making a law he can’t (or won’t) retract. The best part is the ending: the good guy wins, and the bad guys get torn to pieces. “Hurrah for Daniel,” we all say and tell our kids to be good little boys and girls like him. But just as we found in chapter 3, there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Daniel chapter 6 is actually about persevering in the face of persecution. Its purpose is to fortify and encourage God’s people in the midst of opposition. Whether the persecution is overt or subtle, it always comes in the same form: a relentless, persistent pressure to abandon our convictions, settle for a compromise and thereby weaken our resolve and trust in God.

With that in mind let us look closer at this chapter to see what it might teach us.

In Darius’ Den

Daniel, having been brought to Babylon in his teens, is now in his late 80’s. And as in the earlier chapters, he quickly rises to the top and becomes one of three leading administrators or overseers. And he distinguishes himself above the others because of his “extraordinary spirit” (v. 3). His character, his integrity, and his leadership ability were of such calibre that Darius looked at him and said, “You’re the man. I can trust you. I’m putting you in charge of the whole outfit.” That draws attention; some unwanted attention:

“The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom.” (v.4)

Now the muckraking begins. Here are the real lions in the story, circling Daniel and they do what everyone in politics does when they want to take someone out – they go looking for dirt. They go searching through his texts and emails for some evidence of misdoing. They’re scratching through his rubbish looking for something to pin him on. But they can’t anything.

We saw something like this in the campaign against the leader of the National Party of our country not long ago. The accusation was he’s a crook, he’s corrupt and he handles campaign money illegally. The evidence is all on tapes. They didn’t find that on the tapes, but they found other things. There was other dirt – talking about party members with foul language that he had to publicly apologize for.

When they go looking for something on Daniel, they find nothing. This doesn’t mean Daniel is sinless. But he lives a life of integrity. You can still have sin in your life and live with integrity. You just bring everything out in the open. You don’t hide anything.

“They could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” (v.4)

He’s a great model for us, isn’t he? No corruption. No dirt. Nothing the world can sling at us. That’s the kind of testimony God wants for his people.

So, what are these guys going to do now? They say to each other, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.” (v. 5) They know Daniel is a praying man; he prays regularly and consistently. “OK,” they say to themselves, “let’s get him on that.” They hatch a plan, an evil plan to get King Darius to sign a decree banning anyone from praying to any other god except him for 30 days.

You’ve heard of queen for a day? This is God for 30 days. As one commentator said, when you can be voted to be God, that’s bad theology. And when you’re God for only 30 days, that’s even worse theology! Well, Darius is flattered by this. It panders to his ego. He’s not thinking carefully; he doesn’t think, “That’s strange, why is Daniel missing?” No, he blindly goes ahead with it all and makes a very foolish edict that he can’t – or won’t back down on.

But what I want you to see here is both the source and substance of this attack. It is aimed directly at the heart of Daniel’s spiritual life: his piety. His prayer life. The enemy knows where to get us. He knows what to go for. And he knows if he stops Daniel praying, he cuts him off at the knees. Satan doesn’t care if Daniel is Chief overseer, President or Prime Minister. Satan’s concern is Daniel petitioning the throne of grace.

So what does Daniel do when he hears about this edict? What would you do? Let’s look at verse 10 and see as we move dens.

In Daniel’s Den

“When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (v. 10)

When Daniel heard about the edict, he went home to his house and went to the window that faced toward Jerusalem – the place his heart longed for, the city of God, the home for the people of God; the place where God would one day raise up the Deliverer, and he got down on his knees and gave thanks to God, “just as he had done before.”

This is where the battle was fought and won – in Daniel’s den. It doesn’t matter what happens to Daniel after this. Because he is completely surrendered to God. He’s in his hands. We now move to final scene: in the angel’s den.

In the Angel’s Den

Daniel’s conspirators meet up again and this time it’s en masse to go and spy on Daniel. And they are delighted – they catch him red-handed. On his knees and all. They snap some pictures on their phones and they’re off to see the king.

Darius was greatly distressed. What a fool he had been. He sets him mind on rescuing Daniel and made every effort to deliver him. But his efforts were in vain. Darius is trapped by the snare he himself has created. He could have reversed the edict of course. After all, he WAS king. But he didn’t.

So, into the lion’s den went Daniel. “May your God, whom you continually serve, rescue you!” the king calls out, as Daniel tumbles down. A stone was brought and rolled over and placed at the mouth of the den. The king then sealed the stone with his signet ring. In doing so he sealed the end of Daniel.

That night another king in Babylon could not sleep nor could he eat. No diversions were brought to him. Cancel the home delivery from the Indian Kitchen. And the Netflix movie. The best man in his kingdom has just been sentenced to death. He wasn’t in the mood to be entertained.

At first light of dawn the king rushes downs to the lion’s den. He reaches the opening and cries out, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you continually serve, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel replies from the darkness beneath,

“May the king live forever. My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths; and they haven’t harmed me, for I was found innocent before him. And also before you, Your Majesty, I have not done harm.” (vv. 21–22)

The stone is rolled away, and Daniel emerges from the tomb – completely unscathed. There’s not a mark on him. Not even a scratch. By faith, Hebrews 11:33 tells us, Daniel shut the mouths of lions. Just as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah trusted their God and disobeyed the Kings decree, so did Daniel. And just as God sent an angel to the furnace, so he did to the lion’s den.

Conclusion

But it doesn’t always work out like this for God’s faithful, does it? Isaiah believed God, too, but he got sawn in half. Paul believed God and he laid his head on a block, and an axe head flashed and severed it from his body. Peter believed in God, and he got crucified upside down. Believing in God doesn’t mean that the lions aren’t going to eat you. It means God will never forsake you – not ultimately, not eternally. Dying a martyr’s death is not loss. Dying without Christ; dying without hope, that’s loss.

Daniel 6 is not just a nice story on how God is bigger than lions. It’s about persevering in the face of persecution. It’s to encourage God’s people in the midst of opposition.

If you are a Christian, there is much to encourage us in this story. In the days to come we will all face hostility in one form or another because of our faith. “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” Paul says to Timothy (2 Tim 3:12). Those who serve the Lord never have an easy road in this world. But be of good cheer. If we will be faithful, God can use us to touch many people, including some in high places.

This post was based on a sermon called “In the Lion’s Den.” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

The Writing on the Wall

The picture you see is by Rembrandt, a famous Dutch artist in the 17th century and hangs in the National Gallery in London. It depicts King Belshazzar in the book of Daniel. Belshazzar decides to throw a feast and invites a 1000 of his nobles to attend. And what is the occasion? So everyone can see how manly he is, out-drinking everyone else in the room without falling under the table. And then, when he’s well and truly sauced, he gives orders to bring in the sacred vessels that were taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, fills them with wine, and offers a few toasts to his pagan gods. It’s a blasphemous act of arrogance and defiance that would cause his grandfather, king Nebuchadnezzar, to turn in his grave.

It’s an act however, that doesn’t go unnoticed. Heaven is watching. Suddenly the blood drains from Belshazzar’s face as he sees a hand appear out of nowhere and begins to write on the wall. It spells his judgment. Before the night is over Belshazzar will be dead.

The lesson is a simple one and is made clear by a simple reading of the narrative: God will not be mocked. He will not allow any human power to exalt itself above him. For any human government, institution or individual that exalts itself above God, the writing is on the wall. Its days are numbered.

The setting: party time!

Some time has passed since the end of chapter 4. Nebuchadnezzar has been dead 23 years and it is nearly 70 years since Daniel was deported from Babylon. Daniel is now an old man in his 80’s. Babylon is only a few hours from enemy invasion and collapse. The Medes and the Persians are just outside the city gates, ready to breach the city wall. We can even precisely date the events because Persian military records tell us that Darius’ armies marched into Babylon on 16 Tishri (October 12), 539. According to Daniel 5, the king’s banquet occurred the very night the city fell to Darius. Belshazzar, in his drunken partying state, has only a few hours to live.

“Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar gave orders to bring in the gold and silver vessels that his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, wives, and concubines could drink from them.” (Daniel 5:2)

Nebuchadnezzar had at least a measure of religious respect to recognize that these were sacred objects. After capturing them he put them in the temple of his own god. Belshazzar has no such respect. He’s in charge now and will do whatever he jolly well likes.

What happens next causes Belshazzar and everyone with him to turn cold.

God crashes the party

“At that moment the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king’s palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself and his knees knocked together.” (Daniel 5:5–6)

There’s humour here and it’s not accidental. The Aramaic literally says that the “knots of his joints were loosened.” This could refer to his legs giving way but it more likely means a loss of control of bodily functions as the CSB renders it – “he soiled himself.” With the appearance of God’s fingers on the wall a dark patch appears under Belshazzar’s chair.

Lord Byron, a famous 19th century poet, put the stuttering of the king to verse in Vision of Belshazzar:

The King was on his throne,
The Satraps thronged the hall:
A thousand bright lamps shone
O’er that high festival.
A thousand cups of gold,
In Judah deemed divine —
Jehovah’s vessels hold
The godless Heathen’s wine!

In that same hour and hall,
The fingers of a hand
Come forth against the wall
And wrote as if on sand:
The fingers of a man: —
A solitary hand
Along the letters ran,
And traced them like a wand.

The monarch saw, and shook,
And bade no more rejoice;
All bloodless waxed his look,
And tremulous his voice.
“Let the men of lore appear,
The wisest of the earth,
And expound the words of fear,
Which mar our royal mirth.”

But as the passage reads, no one could. No one, that is, until the Queen mother turns up. She reminds Belshazzar of one in his kingdom who has, “an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and intelligence, and the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems” (Daniel 5:12). Literally – to “loosen knots”; it’s a pun on Belshazzar’s loose bowels. Daniel has the ability to solve messy and knotty problems. “Therefore,” she says, “summon Daniel, and he will give the interpretation.”

And with that Daniel is called in. Belshazzar promises Daniel great rewards if he is able to give the interpretation, but Daniel waves him off.

Instead Daniel reminds Belshazzar how God dealt with his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. He had absolute power and he did whatever he pleased. He gave life and he took life. He promoted whom he chose and demoted whom he chose. But when his heart was lifted up he became arrogant. God brought him crashing to the ground. Then he chides Belshazzar for not doing the same. It’s a very bold move that could have ended up with his head rolling to the ground. But that’s the kind of man Daniel is.

First Daniel translates the writing on the wall: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.  Then he gives the interpretation:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Sorry Belshazzar, but it’s all over. You won’t be here in the morning. Goodbye.

That very night Darius the Mede took over the kingdom and king Belshazzar was killed. And history records how they did it. The walls of Babylon were massive and considered impenetrable. The Babylonians had also stock piled up to 20 years of food so there was no starving them out. But they had an Achilles heel. The river Euphrates ran underneath the wall giving the city a constant source of fresh water. So what the Medes and Persians did was dig up river an alternative channel for the water to flow. This reduced the amount of water flowing under the walls enough so that they could simply walk in under the walls of Babylon and take it over without firing a shot.

Conclusion

What can we take away from this chapter? What is it that God would have us learn? I think there are two ways in which this can be applied.

The Global Application

There is a message here to nations. There is a message to kings and presidents and prime ministers of every age. Any human government or institution that tries to exalt itself above God will be called to account. The writing is on the wall. Its days are numbered. What would it take, do you think, to bring any one of the world’s super-powers of our day crashing to the ground? What would it take to bring the powerful Kim Jung-un and his regime to its knees? The very one who says, “We don’t do God here.” What would it take?

Four words.

And it is the same for every other superpower, regime and institution in the world.

The Personal Application

What about personal application? There is a warning against complacency. Of thinking we are safe when we are not. Of thinking we are good with God when we are not. “Consider the kindness and severity of God,” Paul warns in Romans 11:22. We must not presume on the mercy of God. We must not be deceived into thinking that because God showed grace to our parents or grandparents, that he is indebted to show grace to us also.

Heed God’s warning from his Word, before it’s too late. Everyone who comes to God, recognizing that they have nothing to offer him in return, crying out to him for mercy and grace that is found in His Son Jesus, will find it. They will cross over from death to life. And they will eat one day at a great banquet God will hold for all those who believe. The only writing on the wall there will be, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

This post was based on a sermon called “The Writing on the Wall.” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

The Insanity of Pride

People who are in positions of power have a habit of making bold and arrogant statements that they often regret. Whether it’s a case of overstating things, exaggerating the facts, slighting the truth or just plain lying, sooner or later the facts are revealed, and they find themselves with egg on their faces. And we don’t have to look very far to find examples of those kinds of individuals today. Presidents, Prime Ministers and Politicians are notorious for this behaviour.

But they are not the only ones. We all tend to overstate things, talk about our accomplishments, and claim we are the authors of our own success.  When we do this, we are putting ourselves in the place of God, declaring we can do what he can. God is the only One who can rescue us from ourselves, by humbling us until we recognize that he alone is King, and we are not.

King Nebuchadnezzar is a perfect case in point. God has to teach him a very hard lesson – a lesson we can all benefit from. It is all recorded for us in Daniel chapter 4.

I. The Dream Described (1-18)

You will remember that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Daniel chapter 2 which greatly troubled him. Well, this one terrifies him. As in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar calls in his wise men to come and interpret the dream for him. But they are incapable of doing so. Finally Daniel appears.

The king then tells Daniel the dream. He saw a great tree, with leaves and branches stretching as far as the eye could see. Birds nested in the branches and animals found shade under its leaves. But then the tree was suddenly cut down and stripped and the stump bound with iron and bronze. Halfway through it switches from the tree that would be cut down to a person who will be brought down.

The beautiful, great, strong tree represents a powerful person. He will be cut down—just a stump left. He will completely lose his mind and become like an animal, exposed to the elements. The message concludes with these words, which we find repeated throughout the chapter.

“This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.” (4:17)

II. The Dream Explained (19-27)

Then the king looks at Daniel and says, “Now Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation.” Daniel, with some reluctance summarizes the content of the dream and then gets to the bottom line:

“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree of the Most High that has been issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals. You will feed on grass like cattle and be drenched with dew from the sky for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.” (4:24–25)

Then Daniel implores the king that there is a way out; divine judgment can be avoided. “Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right, and from your injustices by showing mercy to the needy. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.” (4:27)

III. The Dream Fulfilled (28-33)

We are not told in the text how the king responded. We know that he highly respected Daniel – perhaps he listened. Perhaps he amended his ways and bought himself more time. All we know is that 12 months later the King is walking on top of his palace declaring to the world that he is God.

“Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?” (4:30)

Nebuchadnezzar, at this point, has completely lost his mind. He’s speaking like a madman. Wait a minute, you say, didn’t Nebuchadnezzar oversee the building of Babylon? Wasn’t he responsible for many of its beautiful temples and huge walls and its famous hanging gardens? On a small-scale, perhaps yes. But when we step back from it all, the answer is no.

Think about it: where did Nebuchadnezzar get his wisdom and his abilities? Where did he get his great leadership skills? Did he choose to be born into a royal bloodline? Did he choose to be the son of a great King at the height of the Babylonian empire?

Pride blinds. Pride warps our thinking. Pride looks at our success and achievements and says, “I’m the author of that.” But we’re not – God is. It is God who created us and gave us intelligence and skill and ability to reason. He chose the country we were born in and the century we were raised in. He gave us the opportunities for our talents to grow and flourish in. He determines our appointed times and boundaries of where we live in (Acts 17:26). Pride overlooks all of his and says, “No, it’s all because of me. I’m the author of all this.”

That’s insanity, to any sane person.

Imagine if I went around today and claimed that I discovered electricity because I turned on the light. You’d say that is insanity. Yet we do the very same thing when we claim to be the author of the gifts God has given us.

So what did God do in Nebuchadnezzar’s case? He humbled Nebuchadnezzar by making him less than human. He turned him into an animal.

“While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.” (4:31–32)

Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity is actualized. One moment he is surveying his royal kingdom, the next he is ripping off his clothing, making strange snorting noises, and running on all fours, totally naked and stark, raving mad. But God was gracious to Nebuchadnezzar. His insanity was only temporary. It was only for a season – to teach him a vital lesson. Eventually, he came to his senses:

“But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified him who lives forever” (verse 34)

The once proud and prosperous pagan king now openly praises the Living God. The chapter concludes with these words:

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (verse 37)

This story serves as a warning for us all. Pride affects our ability to reason. Pride distorts our perspective of the world. It prevents us from seeing clearly and thinking objectively. And once we have succumbed to it, we are completely at the mercy of God to be rescued from it. We can’t repair our own pride. God must do it for us. Humility must be given to us.

But there is a part we can play in it. We can avoid the path of Nebuchadnezzar. And that is by simply accepting, with gratitude, everything we have as a gift of God. We were nothing until God made us something. And we only got to the place where we are because of God good provision and kindness. We did not earn nor deserve any of the good gifts that we have. They came to us purely by grace.

Let us learn from the pride of Nebuchadnezzar. It would be insane to do otherwise.

This post was based on a sermon called “Nebuchadnezzar and the Tree of Doom” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.