We are currently working our way through the book of Daniel as a church and I was given the pleasure of Daniel 7. If you haven't read the book of Daniel before, it gets a little weird and wonderful but when you dig in, it becomes an amazing picture of the story of the whole bible. You can watch the video below or you can read my script - there are some differences between the two as I cut out parts from the video for time keeping and structure but left them in the script for reference.
As it is a script, it is written how I speak and I haven't edited for reading - if you spot any major errors please let me know! I hope it is helpful.
Have you had any dreams recently? I wonder if the current events have thrown your imagination into overdrive? or are you like me where you wake up knowing you’ve dreamt but can’t recall any of the facts?
You may have noticed that the book of Daniel is filled with dreams, dreams that are highly symbolic and possibly, if you are new to the bible, a bit weird - this time it is Daniel who has the dream that needs interpreting. Daniel 7 can seem like a different tone to the previous chapters but the whole of the book of Daniel has been planned carefully.
There are three things to know before delving in –
First, chapter 1 was written in Hebrew, chapters 2 to 7 are in Aramaic and the rest of the book is in Hebrew again. This is important as it shows chapter 2 to 7 are a section and the connection between 2 and 7 helps us interpret what is going on. This structure overrides chronology – the timing of the book - so chapter 7 is actually placed 10 years before the events of chapter 5. This might mess with your head a little but in ancient writings and histories, the message and things the author wanted you to notice took priority over the timeline.
The second thing to know is just a highlight of the repetition of the theme of faithfulness to God there is hope of rescue in chapters 1, 3 and 6. It may have been obvious but both Daniel and I want you to notice it as we go into chapter 7.
Third is to define a word. In chapter 2, after the King’s dream is revealed to him, Daniel says this:
“Let the name of God be praised… he reveals deep and hidden things. He knows what is in the darkness and light resides with him”
What Daniel experienced in chapter two was an apocalypse…
Now you might be thinking, this wasn’t the end of the world and you are right. When we talk about an apocalypse today we link the word to a massive battle or end of the world scenario and possibly even zombies but this isn’t what the bible means by apocalypse.
The book ‘Revelation’ for example, is named after the first sentence of the book which says, “an apocalypse of Jesus Christ”. Apocalypse is translated ‘Revelation’. Other apocalypses happen throughout the bible, one repeated example is in several letters where Paul talks about his apocalypse when he sees Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Every time you see the word ‘revealed’ in the New Testament, it is quite likely you are seeing the Greek word apokalupsis.
Daniel’s apocalypse is the great unveiling of deep and hidden things – the dreams of a king and the meaning behind it show Daniel’s God is greater than all the gods of the other advisers who are mere idols.
As we go into chapter 7, we are dealing with what is known as apocalyptic literature. It is a revelation of God’s kingdom, power and in some cases, prophecy that gives a glimpse of what will happen and also gives clarity about what has happened. This is not a code to break, this isn’t necessarily about us and our time but we will find some relevant things to take away. This is an apocalypse for Daniel, for the people of God and we will see why we need to be careful thinking it is for our time and what we can learn from it at the end. I pray that through this talk it will be an apocalypse for you. That God will reveal himself to you through his word this morning.
Tina read the passage so you can listen to her here or click this link to read here.
There is a lot of ink spilled over who the beasts are in this chapter but the reason I pointed out the structure before we read is to show the connection between these beasts and Daniel’s interpretation of the kings dream in chapter 2.
In chapter 2 the statue represents multiple kingdoms that you can follow the history of the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires and all are eventually shattered. It is with chapter 2 in mind at the start of the Aramaic section that it makes sense to think of the same empires in chapter 7. Or at least, some of the same empires. The lion with eagle wings is a well known image of Babylon but it is given a human mind or heart has connections to the humbling and re-instatement of Nebuchadnezzar from chapter 3. The bear can be linked to the imbalanced Medo-Persian empire where the Persians were superior in power to the Medes, its ribs possibly resemble Babylon, Lydia and Egypt which were within its borders. The four headed leopard could point to the speed at which Alexander the Great conquered the known world and the four rulers that came after his early death.
The final empire is not given a symbol or even a beast it is similar to but it is ferocious and devours and battles the saints – God’s people and even, given this is a heaven/earth overlap. What is important about these beasts are that they represent the way humanity can create systems and empires and even act individually as beasts.
Let's take a step back moment because this chapter is actually a mini story of the entire bible even though it was written before half of it. In Genesis 1, the spirit of God hovers over the waters, notice the echo from verse 2 of Daniel 7, the Aramaic for wind in this verse is comparable to the Hebrew for wind or spirit in Genesis 1. Instead of God creating order out of the sea, the beasts are coming out of the sea to destroy creation. Continuing in Genesis 1 we see God creates all of the animals and giving them purpose and filling the land, sea and air with creatures. God then creates humanity in his image and gives humanity or ‘Adam’ in Hebrew, dominion over everything.
Humanity is meant to rule alongside God.
Adam and Eve are given the whole garden and authority over it. You probably know the story about their rebellion but the rebellion in the garden was much more than taking knowledge and remaining ignorant but that is for another time. The result of the rebellion was that instead of humanity ruling with God, they would rule over each other and the serpent that tempted them would become the most cursed beast and an enemy. In the middle of the fall of Genesis chapter 3 there is a glimmer of hope - there would be a son of man, the offspring of Adam, that would crush the beast even though he would be wounded himself.
This is the kind of imagery Daniel is using to explain his vision. The man-made empires are becoming beasts that devour humanity and by the fourth beast with the many horns, they are directly opposing God and the saints. Where they were meant to co-rule with God they constantly fail. But as Daniel is looking at the terrifying fourth beast and its horns, the scene changes.
Thrones were set out.
The Ancient of Days on a fiery wheeled throne with millions of people, all the nations around him, sits in judgement over the beast. It isn’t even a battle, the beast is dead and destroyed within the next two verses. Then we see the offspring of Adam, the son of man, given the dominion and authority, and all peoples and nations serve or it can even be said, they worship him.
Many people focus on the beasts and the horns but the point of the vision is the son of man. The beast is no threat to God, though the beast does seem to give the saints are hard time. Daniel is alarmed at his dreams and I think one of the things that alarms him is the idea of people worshipping a son of man like they worship God. Daniel is given a glimpse of an anointed offspring of Adam, the king in the line of David that will bring back the promise of the garden. The messiah that would restore humanity to be co-rulers with God.
You were made to co-rule with God but we are often overpowered by the beast of sin and the guilt, shame and fear that comes with it – the world is in need of a saviour, an offspring of Adam that will bring us back to co-rulership with God.
Christ and Messiah are two of the most common names given to Jesus in the gospels and the New Testament, both mean the same thing but one is Greek and the other is Hebrew. Both mean annointed one. Whenever the disciples or others around Jesus call him ‘the Christ’ in the gospels, he either tells them not to tell it to others or he calls himself the Son of Man. We lose it in translation but it quite literally means, offspring of Adam. THE offspring that humanity has been waiting for since Genesis 3.
Reading the gospel of Matthew and you will start to see Daniel’s vision over and over again. There is one crucial point to focus on this morning. It is in Matthew 26, verse 63 to 66.
Jesus has been brought out in front of a high priest facing the charge of blasphemy and for claiming to be a messiah. The priest demands that Jesus say yes or no to claiming to be the messiah and Jesus response is,
“you have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
John’s gospel says it like this:
“So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Jesus was pointing to Daniel 7. Jesus would be given all power and authority and dominion of heaven and would be the promised son of man that brings humanity back to God. Humanity would worship him.
How does he do this? Not through becoming a beast or conquering by military power, though he had legions of angels at his call, but by laying down his life.
Jesus claimed to be the one that is like God. This claim is made clear by the responses of the priests– ‘He has uttered blasphemy’ and the crowd responds, ‘he deserves death’.
Jesus’ death on the cross is victory over the beast. An offspring of Adam striking the serpent whilst being wounded by it.
Jesus is the son of man that would be given dominion and is presented to God by being lifted up on the cross.
The final point before we look at how this impacts our life is to see how Daniel 7 and Jesus’ claim to be the son of man is connected with the very last book of the bible. In Revelation chapter 1, John, the author of the book, has a vision. Listen to the language he uses in two parts of chapter 1:
"and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen…"
"…Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow…" Revelation 1:5-7,12-14
John has used the language that Daniel used to describe the ancient of days to describe the son of man - Jesus. The son of man not only has dominion and glory forever, he isn’t just the firstborn of the dead, but he is also the ancient of days incarnate. JESUS IS GOD.
This is why it is so important to know who Jesus is. He claimed to be the one that Daniel prophesied about – the one that would conquer evil and death itself so that we could be restored and reconciled to be walking and ruling with God our father as Adam and Eve did in the garden back in Genesis 1.
Daniel was alarmed at his dream. Following God wasn’t going to be easy – he saw the hope that the beast would be destroyed but it hadn’t arrived yet. In Revelation, the beast appears again and though many of the descriptions in Revelation can be seen in the power and persecution of Rome, there are many points in Revelation that are pointing to future generations including our own. Every civilisation can become a beast that devours humanity through injustice, war and neglect of the weak and vulnerable. Every civilisation can set itself up to go against God and in many times through the centuries, it has looked like God’s people are losing.
In the vision, the fourth beast looks like it is winning, defeating the saints and this beast may well represent our own society like it has societies before us and societies in the future. Daniel has structured this book to focus on hope. In chapter 3, Daniel’s friends were threatened with fire if they didn’t bow to the statue of the king, they remained faithful and they were rescued from the flames. Chapter 6, Daniel faces the beasts for remaining faithful to God and he is rescued.
Notice then that the beast that doesn’t bow to the rightful king is destroyed in the flames. Those who remain faithful to God will be rescued, even from death and as the end of the chapter shows, they will be given the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven and this kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom and all dominions shall serve and obey the Most High.
The hope is echoed in Revelation 22:1-5:
'Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. '
This is called new creation. The son of man, the lamb of God, sits with the ancient of days with evil defeated.
You aren’t made to be taken from this earth and live in a place in the clouds called heaven. What is evil and corrupt will be destroyed and the world will be made new. 1 Corinthians 15 says that though we go through death, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be changed. The mortal will become immortal, these corruptible bodies will be made incorruptible and we will enjoy this new earth without death or decay, no mourning and no tears and we will be able to taunt death that it no longer has any sting or power over us. Do you want this hope? Come home to Jesus.
What is certain is that in this life we will face trouble, but Jesus promises that he has overcome the world.
Endure with Jesus and find hope in the promise the focal point of Christianity, that through Jesus’ resurrection in the past, we look forward to a resurrection and new creation in the future. What a hope we have in Jesus.
If you’d like to follow Jesus I’d love to pray with you and talk to you, so please do get in touch. For now, let us all pray together, recommitting our selves to turn away from the beast crouching at our door, to pray for the strength and peace that comes from God through his holy spirit to endure and persevere through the suffering caused by the beasts and death around us and to be confident in the hope that one day, all suffering and pain will be no more.
John Lennox, "Against the Flow": Amazon link
Son of Man podcast series by The Bible Project: click me