The Bible isn’t just one book. It’s a mini-library. Through the 66 books of the Bible God tells us his story of how and why he saves his people. Because God is creative, he tells his story using different styles of writing. So there is poetry like Song of Songs, history like Samuel and Kings, prophecy like Isaiah, commandments and law like Leviticus, there are songs like the Psalms, there are the Gospels at the start of the New Testament and all those letters to early churches like Ephesians or Colossians. And for the most part, that stuff is pretty easy to understand. Then there is the Apocalyptic literature, which isn’t.
Some of us might be familiar with Apocalyptic literature. Some of us aren’t. But don’t panic, because ‘Apocalyptic’ is just a fancy theological word for the kind of writing that sounds like a cross between the surrealist art of Salvador Dali and the bloodthirsty mayhem of a Quentin Tarantino film with a soundtrack by Rage Against the Machine.
There is plenty of weird stuff in Apocalyptic writing: beasts that come out of the sea and have teeth of iron and horns all over their heads; stars that fall from the sky; the moon turns to blood; dragons make the odd appearance; some animals have ten heads; and there are all these strange numbers that pop up all over the place. These beasts and numbers are meant to be symbolic.
There are a few examples of Apocalyptic literature in the Bible. In the New Testament there are a couple of chapters in the Gospels that are Apocalyptic. Most of the book of Revelation is Apocalyptic. In the Old Testament there are parts of Zechariah and Ezekiel that are Apocalyptic, and there is also the back half of Daniel, from chapters 7 to 12.
Now, it must be said that Apocalyptic can be difficult to understand. Because of that, all sorts of strange things are written or said about it. If you Google ‘Daniel 7’ you get over 1.3 billion hits in 0.4 of a second and honestly, most of it is fairly dodgy.
So one thing I read the other week said that the fourth beast in Daniel 7 was clearly a Tyrannosaurus Rex that had 10 horns like a Mohawk. Another writer wanted to interpret Daniel 7 through Revelation 13 and said that the little blasphemous horn in Daniel 7 was the anti-Christ making an early appearance—which is possible—but then he went on to say that the anti-Christ was obviously Prince Charles. Now, people have varying opinions of Prince Charles but I reckon calling him the anti-Christ is bit much.
Then there are other folks who say we can’t interpret any of it for certain. Some of these also say that God can’t predict the future. So these people take any kind of prophetic element out of it. When they’ve finished, you’ve got nothing but a bunch of weird stories that offer no comfort to God’s people at all.
Like a lot of things, the truth lies somewhere between those two extremes. God willing, that’s what we’ll be hearing today. Our God is a speaking God. He reveals himself to us through his word so that we will know his character. He does this so we will grasp his holiness and bend our knees in worship to him. God also loves us like a perfect father loves his children. Because of that, he gives us the odd glimpse into the future so we will know without doubt that he has all things completely under his sovereign control. God’s people have always needed this reassurance through all ages and in every place. Whether Christians are being persecuted or their lives are just a mess for some other reason, Christians always need to be reminded that our God is sovereign and has all things under his control. Daniel 7 is one such glimpse into the future.
Seeing something that’s going to happen in the future, when it is something that you don’t fully understand, would be pretty overwhelming. That was Daniel’s experience. In Daniel 7 verse 1, he tells us that he was only able to write down the substance of this dream. This tells us that he saw more than he could describe. In the last verse, verse 28, he tells us that he was deeply troubled by his thoughts and his face turned pale. This is a heavy chapter but God has preserved it for our benefit so let’s hear what He has to say.
Daniel’s vision is from verses 2 to 14. It is explained to him from verse 16 down to the end of the chapter. I want us to have a quick look at the vision and the explanation, but then spend most of our time in verses 13 to 14.
The vision itself is quite similar in lots of ways to the vision Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel chapter 2—only here, instead of a statue with four sections, there are four beasts. But like the statue, these beasts represent four kingdoms. So have a look at verse 4, and the first beast, which represents Babylon.
The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. (NIV)
You will remember that Nebuchadnezzar went mad for a while back in chapter 4, and that his hair became like an eagle’s feathers, and then he repented and he restored to sanity, so that he stood back up like a man. This first beast is Babylon.
The second beast stands for the Medo-Persian empire which followed Babylon, verse 5:
And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’
The bear represents the Medo-Persian Empire. The Persians were much more powerful that the Medes, which is why the bear is raised up on one side. It had a big appetite for destruction. It’s been down to the RSL for some ribs and there’s three still stuck in its teeth, but a voice tells it to keep eating, which it does until the leopard comes along.
The third beast in verse 6, the leopard, is Greece under Alexander the Great.
After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. (NIV)
The leopard is one of the quickest animals around, and likewise the Greek Empire expanded incredibly rapidly under Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The four wings and the four heads refers to what happened to the Greek Empire after Alexander the Great died. His empire was divided between his four most powerful Generals: Ptolemy, Seleucus, Antigonus, and Cassander.
The fourth beast in verse 7 represents Rome.
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. (NIV)
This one is too weird and terrifying for Daniel to describe. But it’s probably not a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Whatever it is, it freaks Daniel out. It is immensely powerful. With large iron teeth, it crushes and eats it’s victims. In the Bible, a horn generally symbolizes power. This beast has 10 horns at first, but in verse 8, three of the horns are dislodged by another little horn that had the eyes of a man and spoke boastfully. Terrific!
At least on one level, we can identify this beast with the Roman Empire. It was by far the most powerful of the four empires, and was pretty much unstoppable for the best part of 400 years.
But notice where these beasts come from, back in verses 2 to 3:
Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. (NIV)
In the Bible, the sea often represents chaos and evil. Here it represents an almost uncontrollable opposition to God and his people. This wild churning sea keeps throwing up empire after empire. Most are bad, others are worse. That’s why these beasts come out of the sea, the metaphorical home of all that is chaotic and evil and opposed to God and his people. It’s also why at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22, John the Apostle tells us that there is no more sea. He is saying that the days of uncontrolled opposition to God are over. (He is not necessarily saying that there is no surfing in heaven.)
Anyway, when Daniel gets to the heavenly courtroom from verse 9, he sees the Lord Jesus being given dominion and power and victory over these four empires. We need to understand that Jesus’ victory and dominion is not limited to just these empires. Jesus is Lord and King over all empires, across all creation, and for all time. Christians through the ages—who have lived, or are living, under empires or in countries where they are persecuted, arrested, jailed, tortured, and murdered—have been able to read Daniel 7 and be comforted by the assurance that their king, king Jesus, is ultimately in control of what they are going through. In the end, they will win because Jesus has already won. That is why so many of our brothers and sisters in those places face death with such courage. They know they will reign with Christ no matter what.
This is summed up in verses 16 to 18. Have a look there, because Daniel is given an explanation of his vision:
So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: “The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.” (NIV)
This idea is repeated again in verses 26 and 27.
But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. (NIV)
There’s no doubt that God’s people will cop all sorts of terrible things from earthly kingdoms, but the eternal kingdom of God, of which every Christian is a part, is the only everlasting one, and when it comes in all its glory, God’s people will have rest and peace.
This is one of the central themes of all Apocalyptic writing in the Bible. It is written to God’s people who are suffering persecution to remind them that despite their present circumstances, in the end their victory is assured because God’s victory is assured.
At the moment, you and I don’t face much physical persecution. The insults and discrimination are ramping up against Christians. We saw that in the video Ray played last week about that university student who got kicked off his campus because he prayed for a fellow student. But physical persecution is coming. In many parts of the world, it’s a daily reality. Over the first 1,900 years of Christianity, around 14 million Christians were killed for their faith in Jesus. In the 118 years since then well over 30 million Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus. Persecution is increasing rapidly. If you’re a Christian you need to understand that what we experience of life in Australia is different to virtually every other Christian throughout history. My question is, “What are we doing with this freedom?” The answer is, “Not all that much!” Most of us are pretty lukewarm. When was the last time you spoke to someone about Jesus?
The great irony is that when being a Christian is easy, churches decline. When Christians are persecuted, churches grow. I think we recognize this in our own Christian lives as well. When we are under pressure, our faith in Jesus deepens, and we grow spiritually. When we are under very little pressure, we get spiritually lazy and our faith gets shallow. If you’re not experiencing some heat for being a Christian, you’re probably not standing out for Jesus enough.
Come back to Daniel 7. This whole vision happens in the heavenly court room. God here, called the Ancient of Days, takes his seat as the great judge of all kingdoms and powers and authorities. Daniel describes God, in verses 9 to 10, as having clothes and hair that are as white as wool, symbolizing God’s purity. His throne is flaming with fire, symbolizing the power of his judgement.
Daniel tells us at the end of verse 10, that the court was seated and the books were opened. This is a scene of ultimate judgement, authority, and power. Forget your supreme court or your high court—this is where final judgement is handed down. All the beasts that Daniel saw eating ribs and terrifying people and whatever else are completely silenced in the face of the great judge. The court is now in session and we are about to meet the Lord Jesus, verses 13 to 14:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (NIV)
We know that this Son of Man is Jesus, because 81 times in the Gospels, Jesus called himself the ‘Son of Man’, and every time he said it, he was thinking of Daniel 7. And every time he said it, everyone who heard him thought, “Hey, this bloke thinks he’s the fella from Daniel 7!”
Well, yes, he did think that. Sometime between his crucifixion, and when he walked out of the tomb, Jesus was led into God’s presence. He did everything he was sent here to do, and because of that, he was given all power and authority and glory because it belongs to him. This is what Daniel saw in his vision: something that would happen over 500 years later. This is why, when you get to the end of Matthew 28, in verses 18 to 20, Jesus can say:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (NIV)
That is Jesus sending all his disciples out, including you and me, to make more disciples of all nations. The ‘Great Commission’ is given to us because Jesus is The Great King.
There are many who do not worship Jesus yet. But they will. On the Day Jesus comes back every eye will see, every knee will bow, every tongue will confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Some will do this with unspeakable joy and delight they will fall at His feet gladly. For example Queen Victoria, who reigned over Great Britain from 1837 to 1901, said she wanted desperately to be alive when Jesus returned so that she could come to him, take off her royal crown, lay it at Jesus’ feet, and worship him who she called ‘the true Monarch’. That’s fantastic, isn’t it! Queen Elizabeth shares that same conviction. Some will worship Jesus joyfully.
But others will do it fearfully with the dreadful realization that they were wrong about Jesus. But either way all will worship Jesus as King.
That is the reality. Jesus is the risen king of God’s kingdom. That is how he sees himself. The question for us is this: “How do we see Jesus? How do you see Jesus?”
There are a few options. Sometimes people choose ‘baby Jesus’. He’s cute, but he’s weak and helpless. ‘Wussy Jesus’ does not confront anyone and there is no need to fear him. ‘Aussie Jesus’ is a ‘no-worries-mate’ Jesus who approves of all our lifestyle and our choices. But it’s inappropriate to think of Jesus as a baby; or a teenager; or as a gentle teacher; or as a beaten up, weak, nails-through-his-hands-and-feet, spear-through-his-side, dying, crucified servant. He was all those things. But he grew up. He died and then rose again victorious. He conquered Satan, sin, and death. He was crowned with all authority, glory, and sovereign power. He doesn’t look weak and gentle anymore. Listen to this. This is Revelation 19 verses 11 to 16. This is what Jesus looks like now:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (NIV)
When we meet him, that is who we’ll see. That is why every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. No one will be bowing down to a baby or a beat-up man who’s been crucified. But if you meet a bloke wearing a robe dipped in blood with the armies of heaven following him, riding a horse with a sword coming out of His mouth and a big tattoo on his legs, no one will be arguing with that guy! The only appropriate thing to do is bow down and worship him.
This is the picture of the Lord Jesus Daniel leaves us with: one who is crowned Lord of All, with absolute authority, glory, and sovereign power.
If you are not yet a Christian, is it because you have never been introduced to this Jesus? The time to stop rebelling against Jesus is now. All of us were once far away from God. All of us were sinners in need of a saviour. Those of us who are Christians have come to Jesus knowing we aren’t perfect and knowing we need forgiveness. If you don’t yet know Jesus as your king, you need to let go of your pride and humble yourself at his feet. He was a baby. He grew up and became a man. He suffered and died in your place to pay for your sin. He rose again and you will meet him at some point. It is perfectly clear that you want to meet him as your friend, brother, and saviour, and that you most certainly do not want to meet him as your enemy. If you’re not a Christian just yet but you know it’s time you were, please come and see me after church, and we can talk some more about Jesus and we can pray. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you’re doing, it just matters that you’re forgiven, and for that you need Jesus.
If you are already a Christian, there’s so much to say. I wonder if we had this image of Jesus in our heads and hearts. I wonder how different our lives would look? I reckon we’d be much more determined to live a life that honours him. I reckon we’d be really intolerant of our own sin. We’d find less excuses for our sin. I reckon we’d talk about Jesus much more than we do. I reckon we’d be asking heaps of our friends to come to church with us and come to ‘Explaining Christianity’ with us. I reckon we’d find visitors and people we don’t know at church and talk to them and make sure they’re feeling welcome so they stick around and either become Christians or grow as Christians. I reckon we’d be really generous with our giving because we’d want to see his kingdom grow heaps!
I wonder if the main reason we—and please notice that I am saying we—because Daniel 7 hits me too. I wonder if the main reason we are so lukewarm at times is because our picture of Jesus is out of date. He was a baby. He is now the king of God’s universe. This Jesus is worth serving. He is worth loving. He is worth talking about. He’s not just worth dying for. He’s worth living for.