Dreaming dreams - Daniel 7
I wonder if you've heard about the Frog who went to visit a Fortune-teller?
The fortune-teller gazed into her crystal ball & said to the frog: "You are going to meet a beautiful young woman. From the moment she sets eyes on you she will have an insatiable desire to know all about you. She will be compelled to get close to youyou will fascinate her."
Frog: "This sounds great, Where am I? At a night club?"
Fortune-teller replied: "No, a Biology class!!"
There are many people today, who feel they would like reassurance about the future! The present seems so uncertain or disappointing or perplexing.
In our broken, fallen world Christians are not exempt from such pressures
For whatever reason; maybe the uncertainty in the world, challenging circumstances in our personal or family life, perhaps disappointments & pain to do with issues in the church family or wider church scene, the experience of God's people involves periods of perplexity.
As we've been seeing over recent weeks this is certainly case in the book of Daniel. (Tonight reached Dan 7 p892).
Daniel is set during the period known as the "Exile" some 600 years before Jesus. The exile had been an event that seemed like a disaster for the people God. Being in a "alien land" seemed to question whether God was still King.
In the 1st 6 chapters, Daniel & other faithful members of God's people encounter the rule of godless earthly Kings. But we have seen that despite what may seem to be the case, God is in control. History is, to use the old, (but helpful, clich"his story". In the words of ch 4:26 "heaven rules."
As we come to Ch 7 we see this truth (God is in control) is re emphasised as something of the future is revealed to Daniel in dreams & visions. In a way very different from the paganism behind something like fortune telling (which is forbidden by the Bible,) God has made known in his word, some aspects of the future that are very important in helping us live in the present. (Sermon Outline.)
1) God the King will be opposed by beast-like Kings. v1-8, 15-17
It's the 1st year of Belsahzzar King of Babylon. This is datable it's 50 years since the godly Daniel had been deported to Babylon & chronologically it comes after the time of Nebuchadnezzar & before the blasphemous Belsahzzar sees the writing on the wall & Daniel is thrown to the Lions under Darius. We find Daniel having a dream after interpreting the dreams of others now it's his turn.
Essentially what Daniel sees are v3 "Four great beasts each different from the others" which came up out of the sea. One beast like a lion, other like a bear, other like a leopard & a 4th, well it's indescribable. Then there's v8 a "little horn" with "eyes like the eyes of a man & [which] spoke boastfully."
Each beast seems to get more gruesome. So the 4th v7 was "& frightening & very powerful. It had large iron teeth, it crushed & devoured it's victims & trampled underfoot whatever was left."
What on earth do these beasts refer to?
Well this is a reminder of an important principle we need God's word to interpret events & visions, otherwise things remain ambiguous.
If all we had in Daniel was v1-14 we might all guess what was going on & end up with as many different possibilities. Many forget this & they impose their own interpretation on key events in the Bible.
We need God's word to interpret what might otherwise be ambiguous events or dreams like this one.
Thankfully we have God's interpretation from v15.
V 15"I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16I approached one of those standing there (in God's court) and asked him the true meaning of all this. "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."
These beasts are symbolic of earthly Kingdoms which are opposed to God. They all came up v3 "out of the sea" the place associated in the OT with chaos & evil.
Here God is foretelling the rise of Kingdoms that will result in beast like behaviour. And we're warned this behaviour will be particularly directed towards those who seek to have the true God as their King.
V21 "As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them".
When you think about it likening an anti God kingdom to a Beast is an appropriate image that's because they perpetrate inhuman actions.
When God made human beings (as read back in Gen 1:28) humans were made to rule the earth under God & like him. that's what being human is all about. But now after humanity's rebellion against God we have Kings who behave like bests. Kingdoms that fail to acknowledge God as ultimate King, will not rule under him & like him & will therefore rule like brute beasts, particularly towards God's people.
Hasn't that been true throughout history?
Here most scholars seem to think these 4 Kingdoms were Kingdom of Babylon, Medo Persian empire, Greek & then Roman & the little horn of v10 is Antiochus Epiphanes who killed many of God's people in 2nd C BC. But the historical details are not crucial because there is a more general point.
The sea at the start of the vision is churned up by "four winds" 4 points of the compass in other words from everywhere so however these beasts are specifically interpreted in history there is a sense in which they represent all kingdoms that oppose the true King, God himself.
So we're being warned here. Beast-like Kingdoms will come throughout history.
You can imagine Christians down the centuries reading this & seeing the opposition they faced predicated in it From the Romans killing Christians for sport through to the Stalins, Hitlers & Pol Pots in the 20th C & contemporary opposition to the Christian Church in N Korea, China, The Sudan & the Middle East. Beast-like Kingdoms will come.
What's more we should not be surprised by Beast-like rule opposed to God's rule affecting Christians at other levels too even in families or the work place. Some who rule us at the moment may be good rulers (thank God for that) but beast like kings will arise & bring suffering we should be warned from Daniel ch 7 & be realistic But this is not the end of the story;
2. God will Judge Beast- Like Kings v9-12, 19-26
After seeing these horrendous beasts & the arrogant little horn, the perspective dramatically changes. Instead of aggression & fury as before there is now calmness.
Daniel looked v9 & saw "thrones were set in place & the Ancient of Days took his seat end v10 "the court was seated & the books were opened."
Daniel sees a courtroom & unmistakably given the symbolism of the OT it is God who is present. God V9 "the Ancient of Days" the eternal one who "took his seat".
God in his brilliant piercing purity, whose "clothing was as white as snow", who's "throne was flaming with fire". God v10, with blazing wheels on his throne powerfully & dynamically present & present now to judge, so v10 "The court was seated, and the books were opened."
And what is the outcome of this judgement? A fair trial the books were opened, the truth will out.
Then the figure from before, the arrogant little horn, reappears & it receives its just deserts;
V11 "Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire."
God you see will not tolerate Beast-like Kings forever. One day justice will be done & seen to be done all opposition to God will be removed from his world.
In history these 4 beasts have been judged in that their Kingdoms have fallen. You see, God's court is sitting permanently, sometimes it's judgment breaks into history yet ultimately God will bring his judgment to bear at the end of time when all will be judged.
There is great reassurance here. Think of the crimes against people perpetrated by governments & kingdoms which they seem to get away with. Well what we see here shows us they won't get away with it forever. If they were to, the universe would be anarchic & God would not be God. But God's justice will prevail, beast-like behaviour that opposes God & his people will be judged & destroyed. That's good news.
It may be you're here tonight & you're not a Christian we're delighted you are here but there is a serous note about what were seeing this eve. Given the way we've all treated God there is something beast-like about all of us.
We all fail to let God be God & live under his rule that means we are all under God's judgment.
Now God has provided a way to escape the consequences (as we are about to discover) but those who fail to acknowledge God as King & fail to take refuge in his remedy, will face his judgement. The warning is clear.
God will judge beast- like kings. But also;
3. God will Establish His Perfect King V9-14, 18-28
After this scene of judgement Daniel sees more v13"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man". This figure was given v14 "authority, glory and sovereign power."
This individual given power to rule by God has an intriguing description.
To a Jew in Daniel's time "Son of man" was a way of saying "human being". As we'll see there is more to this character than being simply "like a human being", but it points to a revealing contrast with what has gone before.
This character who is going to rule, is completely different from the beasts that ruled we've just seen. The beasts you remember failed to acknowledge God as ultimate King & so unlike human beings were meant to - rule under God & like God they instead rule like a lion, like a bear, like a leopard, particularly towards God's people. This one is "like a son of man", he's very different his rule will be as it should be; his rule will be truly as humanity should be He is God's perfect King.
This perfection is seen in his ruling over all things & all people v14 "He was given (by God) authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him."
And his perfect rule as King is eternal, (end of v14) "His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."
With the current global situation there has been much talk about international law & democracy. Why are these things good? It seems to me they're generally just assumed to be good in the western world!
Knowing what fallen human beings are like, from the Bible, we know that if you have one person ruling unchallenged, it's v easy to become a beast.
So democracy limits human power.
The downside is that having to persuade the majority is not always conducive to getting things done, democracy often limits a government's effectiveness. Ideally what you want is a ruler with the power to get things done & who is going to do so justly & fairly.
This is what God's perfect King will do. He is one "like a son of man", who was given authoritysovereign power".
But when will this rule be known? When God's perfect King is crowned.
Anyone here at all familiar with the NT cannot fail but recognize the resonances of this passage with Jesus of Nazareth born 600 years earlier.
"Son of man" seems to have been Jesus favourite title for himself used 14x in Mark's gospel for eg (cf title "Christ" only 7x).
It is interesting that when Jesus is referred to in this way in the NT it is as "the Son of man" this was apparently a very unusual form of words at the time.
It's as if anyone who heard him was bound to ask "Which Son of man?" & the answer is clear this one this one in Dan 7, this one given rule as God's perfect King. Jesus clearly sees himself fulfilling this dramatic vision. (p)
Now back in Dan 7 this one "like a Son of man" approaches God & v14 is given rule ("authority, glory & sovereign power".) For Daniel, this is anticipating what was a future event, but it is a past one for us because Jesus after his death & resurrection ascended to heaven & was crowned God's perfect King.
At the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation the Apostle John sees a vision of the glorified Christ ruling from heaven. Rev 1: 12ff "I saw"like a son of man" dressed in a robeHis head & hair were white like wool, as white as snow, eyes were like blazing fire Do you recognize the allusions to Dan 7? Here now even what was said of God the Ancient of Days is ascribed to Jesus!
Revelation goes on in ch 5:9 to describe what is heard in heaven about Jesus "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." The authority of the "son of man" is based on his death. The blood he shed on the cross can bring those who recognize their failure to live for God the King, back to him. Trusting in this is the way to escape the consequences of our rebellion, the way through judgement I spoke of earlier. The Judge judged in our place.
So remember Jesus rules now, he is already with God the Father ruling from heaven. But, as we all know from hard experience, he is still waiting to be recognized by all people. The bringing in of the full extent of the rule of God on earth, is still future. (p)
The description Jesus gives of this event in Mark's gospel is very interesting. Mk 13:26 "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds" (like Dan 7:13) & "with great power & glory" (like Dan 7:14!!)
Jesus will return & take full possession.
When this happens all opposition to God will be removed from what will be a transformed world a new heaven & new earth. That is the time when all best-like rule will be destroyed & all will submit to the perfect rule of Jesus & v14 will be fully fulfilled "all peoples, nations and men of every language" will worship him.
This is rich truth & its implications are very significant. We must have this perspective in mind in our everyday lives if we're going to keep going as Christians.
Jesus is King but the fullness of his kingdom is yet to come. We live in the "now" of the rule of Christ we live in a day when his love & rule can be known & where it is real, yet we also live in the "not yet".
I remember a middle-aged man I met when studying theology. He had turned his back on years of living as a prominent Biblical evangelical Christian leader, preferring what he saw as a more ritualistic & sensual spirituality.
When I asked him why the change, he replied in a way that suggested he was so disappointment at the lack of growth in the church (perhaps fed by exaggerated claims to imminent revival) that there must be another way than the Bible's way. This disillusionment had lead to the gospel he had sought to live by & communicate for decades being put aside.
Perhaps that's an extreme eg but it is easy to get discouraged.
The great Church reformer Martin Luther's words are an encouragement as we live between the times knowing the Son of Man is King; "This life therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming ;We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it."
4. God's people will share the perfect King's rule v15-28
Very briefly there's another wonderful truth to grasp that we see in the interpretation Daniel received after his vision.
Look at v27 (words Daniel hears after the judgement & destruction of the beasts & the little horn). "Then the sovereignty, power & greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High
RhQ: Who is said to receive authority to rule before in v 14? The Son of man Jesus.
Here the "saints - the people of the Most High", Christians as the NT makes clear, forgiven their failure to live under God's rule by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, receive the power to rule. (Rev 5:9f) Jesus will share his rule with his people when he is acknowledged by all at his return.
Do you know the old little ditty that goes like this? "God's word made a perfect beginning,
Man went & spoiled it by sinning,
we know that the story will end in God's glory
but at present the other sides' winning".
It's hard isn't it being a Christian? Our own weaknesses remain, our society seems to get more & more secular, and even church authorities seem to rebel against God.
But it's worth pressing on, isn't it? It's worth it because of all that God has done for us in Jesus the Son of Man but we're reminded here that it's worth it because of what awaits us when his rule is fully known on earth. We shall share that rule no longer will beast-like rulers dominate & abuse God's people God's people will rule with Jesus, fulfilling our true humanity as those who should rule under God & like God.
One of my favourite stories is about a man who was giving an after dinner speech. He fascinated his friends by telling them of his experiences in a little town near where he used to live.
The town was to be flooded, as part of a large lake for which a dam was being built. In the months before it was to be deluged, all improvements and repairs in the whole town were stopped: What was the use of painting a house if it was to be covered with water in six months? Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out?
So, week by week, the whole town became more and more bedraggled, more gone to seed, more woeful. Then the man added by way of explanation:
"Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present."
Life may be challenging as believers but we have real hope for the future, unlike that poor frog at the start! Hope revealed by God's sure word, hope that though God will be opposed by beast-like Kings, they will be judged in the end (even if not before). We have hope that God will establish Jesus the Son of Man, his perfect King over all, forever & what's more we have hope that we, his people, shall reign with him.
That's a great hope for the future & it gives us power in the present.
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.