This morning we begin a new challenge in our study of the book of Daniel. As we move to Daniel 7 the great narratives give way to a record of the visions of Daniel. When you move from chapter six to chapter seven you must shift gears. These are records of colorful and image-filled prophecies.
In the first six chapters we were clearly challenged by the example of Daniel and his friends to stand firm in a world that continually tries to pressure us to conform. The last six chapters encourage us to trust the sovereign and sure plan of God. These chapters are going to be difficult and require a little more concentration.
Chapters 7-12 are filled with what is called apocalyptic language. We see apocalyptic language prominently in Daniel, Zechariah and the book of Revelation. Apocalyptic language makes heavy use of symbols and images that may seem bizarre but are designed to help you “feel” a particular point or message. The symbols are not meant to be interpreted literally (e.g. the beasts in this chapter represent Kingdoms . . . they aren’t real beasts). Apocalyptic literature paints in broad strokes and sometimes uses figures and numbers symbolically.
If you have read the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (or saw one of the movies in the series) or if you read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “the Lord of the Rings” trilogy you discover talking animals, witches, fierce dragons and some all kinds of wild creatures. The images are fanciful but the stories depict a contest between good and evil. The message is clear even if the symbols are bizarre. These books are largely poetic in their use of language.
If you ever had an English class where poetry was studied you may have responded like I did. We would read some poem and then the teacher would tell us that the poem symbolized the sexual repression of the writer or they would tell us that the poem was a stirring indictment of the government of the day. I would think, “I thought it was just a poem about tulips!”
Apocalyptic books in the Bible can leave us frustrated. However, remember: they were meant to be understood by the common people like you and me. I don’t want you to be frustrated by these visions. Our goal is not to mine every treasure or probe the depth of every image. Our goal is to “get the point”. In the chapters ahead we will add layers to our understanding.
The first vision comes during the first year of Belshazzar. This means we are going back in time to around when Daniel 5 was written. We are once again back in the time of the Babylonian Empire.
Daniel saw four beasts that came out of the sea. We are told in verse 17 that the four beasts represent four kings who will rise from the earth.
The first beast looked like a lion and had the wings of eagles. The wings were plucked off and it was lifted from the ground and made to stand like a man, and the mind of the man was given to it.
This surely refers to Nebuchadnezzar. His wings were “plucked” when God made him live like and animal and was made to stand again when he had come to acknowledge the greatness of the true and living God. This clearly refers to the Babylonian Empire.
The second beast was like a bear. It was raised up on one side and had three ribs in his mouth between its teeth. This would seem to refer to the Medo-Persian Empire that was growing in strength at the time of the vision. The one side raised indicates that the two sides in the Empire were not equal. The Persians became much more dominant than the Medes. The three ribs in the mouth of the beast likely represent the three countries Cyrus conquered in establishing the Empire. In the vision, the beast was told, “Get up and eat your fill of flesh!” (v.5) which implies there was more to conquer (Babylon).
The third beast was part leopard, part bird, and had four wings. These images point to the Greek Empire and indicate the speed with which Alexander the Great would conquer his opponents. The four heads likely point to the fact that Alexander’s Empire (he died young) was divided and given to four of his generals after his death.
Up until this point the vision parallels the vision Daniel had of the state made of Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron in Daniel 2. When we get to the fourth beast there is a debate as to the meaning of this part of the vision.
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
People a lot smarter than me disagree on who this beast represents. Some believe it refers to the Roman Empire and the persecution that happened to the early church. Others believe it refers to the end times. I don’t know who is right however I lean toward the second alternative, that this is talking about a future Kingdom.
Daniel was troubled by the fourth beast. It was different and bigger than the other Beasts (or kingdoms). When Daniel asked for understanding this is what he was told,
23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.26 “ ‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ (23-27)
This doesn’t fit anything we know about the Roman Empire. As Daniel described the vision in verses 9-10 it sounds very final to me.
“thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days (God) took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.
10A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)
We feel the awesome majesty and power of God? He is sets thing right. We are told that the “books were opened”. This sounds like the time of final Judgment.
Verse 13 tells us that one “like a Son of Man” arrived on the scene. The most common title Jesus used to describe Himself while on earth was “Son of Man”. We wrongly think Jesus was simply saying, “I’m a guy, just like you”. However, I believe Jesus was making a much bolder claim. He was saying, I’m the one Daniel talked about. When Jesus alluded to this passage before the Sanhedrin at his trial, they concluded He was claiming to be God and so they convicted Him of blasphemy! (Matthew 26:64)
So who is this “Little Horn”? I think this is a last beast or Kingdom that is still to come because it sounds so much like the Beast or Antichrist that we read about in the Book of Revelation. Lots of people have theories about who this beast will be. They are interesting and fun but they really are just theories. I want to learn what we can from what the Bible actually says.
All we know for sure is that there will be “ten Kings in this Kingdom and then a powerful and arrogant King will arise who will destroy three Kings” and then will viciously persecute God’s people. This King will eventually be destroyed. In the book of Revelation you will see that the one who is called the Anti-Christ is described in terms very similar to these in Daniel 7.
You may have heard the term Antichrist thrown around but may have no idea who or what this Antichrist is supposed to be. To put it in very simple terms, just as Superman had Lex Luther, Batman had the Joker, and Spiderman had the Green Goblin so Jesus will have this dominant antagonist. He will present himself as a counterfeit Savior.
The Anti-Christ will be a person who claims divine power but is actually the opposite (anti) of Jesus. He will be arrogant, boastful, and will require the devotion that belongs to God alone. He will serve Satan. He will make war against those who will not submit to his authority (21). He will work to change the way things are done and the values by which people function. In the Book of Revelation we learn that the trial of those days will be greater than anything we can presently imagine.
Over the years any ruthless Dictator (like Hitler) was believed by some to be the Anti-Christ.
That’s probably enough for today. Many people will go into much greater detail in this passage than me. My concern is to not get so fascinated by what is speculative that we miss the very clear point.
Go back to verses 16-18. Daniel is told the point of the vision:
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, forever and ever.’
The point was not to give us clues for guessing the Antichrist. The point was for Daniel and the Jews to realize that there were more trials to come but in the end they would be victorious. In other words: We win! Let’s look at these two things.
First, we should not be surprised by evil. Daniel was looking forward to the end of the time of the exile. He longed for peace and blessing for the people of Israel. However, God wanted him to know that evil would continue and even escalate. The world would not evolve into a place of peace and tranquility.
The idea that the world is getting better is a myth! Most of us, whether we are followers of Christ or not, can see this clearly. Mankind is becoming increasingly wicked and our consciences are becoming more deadened to the offense of sin. We shrug off things that should bring us to our knees in repentance. We no longer feel guilt because frankly, we don’t feel much of anything!
Just this week I read about more than 10,000 who have been killed just in Syria. We’ve seen it in Russia, China, Africa, and all over the world. Ruthless dictators continue to engage in ethnic cleansing. Hitler was not the first, nor the last. Millions have been executed simply because they do not fit into a particular pattern of “acceptability”.
As we “develop” as a society we just find more and more ways to efficiently murder larger numbers of people! The threat of “dirty bombs”, small nuclear devices, is an illustration of our increased wickedness.
We will see it much more clearly in chapter 10: there is a spiritual battle going on around us. Satan is trying to undermine everything God has created and declared “good”. It is easy to believe that one could come to power and quickly win the hearts of the world, turning them against the followers of Christ.
But this is all future. Let’s make it more relevant. Look at your own experience. We understand the idea of evil as we look around and see,
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Relentless bullying
- Reckless Vandalism
- Senseless murder
- Hateful prejudice
The images of bears, leopards, dragons, giant locusts and balls of fire coming from the sky all resonate with us. Many of you feel like you are under this kind of attack right now.
The reality of the evil to come troubled Daniel even as it troubles us. I honestly don’t know how long it will be before the Antichrist comes on the scene. It could be near or it could be far. What we do know is this: the spirit of antichrist is already here. Hostility to the things of God is growing. The divide between those who follow the path of Christ and those who oppose that way is widening.
The reason we need to face this is so we can be prepared. Remember these words of Paul in 2 Corinthians,
as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. [2 Corinthians 6:3-10]
We must take a closer look at the examples in the first part of the book of Daniel. We need a faith that is as deep and consistent as Daniel and his friends. We must fight to remain faithful at a time when it is popular to be shallow in a faith of convenience rather than conviction.
But it is not all negative. We are reminded that the Lord will defeat every rival! In all our focus on the Antichrist and the horrible beasts we must never forget that this is not the end of the story. There is coming a day when the Lord will deal with the wicked. They will be cast away forever. The whole world will bow before the Lord of Creation!
We read about this King being destroyed by the Lord. His reign will end. Satan and his forces will be cast into the “bottomless pit”. At that time the books that have recorded all the events of our lives will be opened and everyone will be judged. God will judge not only our deeds but also our hearts. He will look not only at whether we said we were His followers but at whether or not we actually did any following. He will look to see whether or not our names are written in the “family archives” of Heaven.
Those who have not truly trusted Christ (regardless of what they have said) will be cast away. They will be sent to a place of eternal punishment.
Those who have recognized and acknowledged their sin and have turned to Jesus as their only sufficient source of rescue will receive a forgiveness we do not deserve. We will be ushered into a new and wonderful life on an earth that has been completely remade.
- Predatory behavior will be replaced by love
- Arrogance will be swallowed up by the humility and a gratitude that comes from and awareness of grace
- Tears of sadness will be replaced by tears of joy
- Our battle against the environment will give way to the harmony that was created by God and evidenced in the Garden of Eden
- Sickness and weakness will be replaced by incorruptible and flawless bodies
- Handicaps will be a thing of the past
- Feelings of insecurity, rejection, and inadequacy will give way to security and love
- A God that seems far away will now be wonderfully near
And one more thing: all those scars that we received from those who sought to wound us, will somehow be turned into badges of honor and they will become joyful offerings of love to the Lord of life.
I suspect we will not fully understand the significance of all these apocalyptic symbols until these things actually come to pass. But until then, there is plenty for us here. There is enough that we DO understand to give us strength and motivate us to look beyond the conflict to the victory that is to come.
We can choose to focus on the beasts or we can focus on the throne. Focusing on the beasts will lead to fear and despair. Focusing on the throne and the “Son of Man” will give us strength and hope.
These final chapters in Daniel are not easy. Don’t be intimidated. See the big picture. Allow these words to stir you, allow them to strengthen your heart and deepen your faith. God does not want to confuse us . . . He wants to encourage us. He wants to prepare and strengthen us so we might be prepared. He wants us to serve faithfully even though the days may be evil. He wants us to be there cheering when the victory is finally won.