A Look Forward
Daniel 7 – 12
A Look Forward
The Magpie ...
During the last month I imagine that a few of us have made our way down to see the “Colours of Impressionism” exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
It’s a chance to see 65 masterpieces including works by Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne, which are on loan from their home, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The 19th Century Elder Wing at the Art Gallery is one of the few places in the world considered an ideal exhibition space for Impressionist paintings;, it’s exactly the kind of bright airy space in which the artists intended their works to be seen.
So, go down and see it if you’re into, 19th century Impressionist art.
Don’t go, though, if you like your art to be precise,
Clear and definite in its detail.
That’s not what impressionism art is.
Impressionist art seeks to capture an overall effect rather than any particular detail.
It tries to draw our attention to movement rather than structure.
It’s why the impressionists were ridiculed by the art world of their day. To call someone an Impressionist was an insult! It meant you couldn’t communicate detail.
But what those snobby French artist critics didn’t understand was that the Impressionists weren’t trying to capture detail.
So, the most famous painting in the exhibition, Monet’s “Le Pie”, The Magpie, it’s not that that’s what Monet thought, a magpie sitting on a fence looks like.
It’s an impression. He wants us to take in the whole scene,
He hopes we can come away having felt something of what it was like that winter’s day, not long after the birth of his son, he’s come out of a period of depression, and in his words, he’s now “surrounded by everything that I love.”
And it’s a wonderful painting, and you can absolutely come away with the feeling that Monet wants us to have.
But go in looking for detail, and you’ll conclude that magpies have no feathers, and that shadows bear no resemblance to the object that casts them!
And at that point you’ve mis-used the painting.
Daniel 7 – 12 is apocalyptic literature
Much of the second half the book of Daniel, is a type of literature called apocalyptic.
And apocalyptic is the impressionist art, of the Bible.
The name comes from the Greek word for uncover or reveal.
And perhaps the most important thing to remember about apocalyptic literature, is that like Impressionist art, the goal of this type of writing is to create an impression, not to communicate detail.
We’re given images,
Broad brush strokes,
There’s drama and colour that is supposed to capture our attention, but zoom in too far and look for detail, and you’ve become one of those snobby art critics, who misunderstood what the artist was trying to achieve.
So in verse 5 of chapter 7 we discover a beast which looked like a bear, with three ribs in its mouth.
Why not a jaw bone?
The bear’s eaten, and he still wants more food. That’s probably all there is to it.
Daniel sees a man in chapter 10, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.
The other people with Daniel didn’t see this vision, and yet even without seeing it, such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves 10 verse 7.
How can they be terrified of something they haven’t seen?
We’re not told! But that’s not the point! Just get an impression of how terrifying this thing must be!
Do you start to see how apocalyptic literature works?
This morning, we’ll spend almost all of our time in Daniel chapter 7, and just in our last few minutes, we’ll dip into chapter 9 to see if what we’ve learnt in chapter 7 can help us understand other parts of the book.
These visions are tied to real history
One of the scholars that Stuart quotes in the Bible Study Guide for this teaching series calls Daniel 7 “‘the centre of gravity of the whole book.”
I think that’s partly because chapter 7 links what’s come earlier in the book, with the last few chapters. If you’ve been with us in recent weeks, you probably had a sense of deja vous as we read the opening verses, because we’re back during the reign of Belshazzar That’s chapter 5, the writing on the wall, and all of that.
You might also recall in chapter 2 verse 4, the language of the original text of Daniel switches from Hebrew to Aramaic. Well the end of this chapter is where it switches back.
Chapter 7 is the bridge, the link, between these 2 parts of the book.
It’s easy for us to see the early chapters as history, in fact, as we’ve seen, some of the very best history we have of the 6th century BC.
Chapters 7 to 12 though, they look like something entirely different, don’t they?!
But the author, in tying the 2 parts of the book so strongly together, connecting the visions with the history we know to be true, he’s telling us, chapters 7 to 12 are connected to history. They take place, within history.
God’s kingdom will outlast all others (7:1 – 28)
So, as chapter 7 opens, we’re told several times that Daniel has seen and written down these visions. That emphasis is deliberate. We’ve already seen how reliable and dependable Daniel is, that God’s chosen him to make known things that are unknown.
The Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey came out a week or so ago. And once again, nurses ranked as the most trustworthy profession in Australia, a position they’ve held for 22 years running.
School teachers were number 5, above High Court Judges!
Ministers of religion rate 15th, but we’re above both Federal and State MPs!
Daniel would have been even above the nurses. The repeated references to his actions are to assure us that this is trustworthy, especially for the original readers who couldn’t look back at history and see that this was all reliable.
So Daniel is given a vision of four great beasts, each different from the others, coming up out of the sea.
Down in verse 17 we’re told that these beasts represent kingdoms that rise on the earth. So why do the beasts come out of the sea rather than the land?
But remember, broad impressions.
For Jewish people, who lived inland, and never saw much water, the sea was dangerous and chaotic, and so it’s as a useful image for chaos, and even for evil.
When I was growing up in Darwin people used to tell stories about kids in the outback who had never seen rain! And the first time these kids ever got rained on, they’d faint from the sheer terror of wet stuff falling on them from the sky. And so the adults would through a bucket of dust on them to revive them up!
It’s entirely apocryphal, but it’s sort of the point here. the sea says out of control, dangerous.
Leap forward in your mind to nearly the very end of the Bible, to another vision, this time given to the Apostle John. He sees the a new heaven and a new earth, Revelation 21, and he notices there was no longer any sea.
It’s not that God hates dolphins, but how could a Jewish person create an immediate impression that in the new creation there’s no chaos and no disorder?
When there’s four beasts coming up out of the sea in Daniel 7, we immediately know, their origin is in chaos and disorder.
But even so, what was the first event in this vision? the four winds of heaven, churned up the great sea.
Heaven, in this kind of thinking, is where God dwells.
Even though there’s going to be evil and chaos, God’s still in control. Not that God is the author of sin and evil, but that it serves his purposes, to allow these beasts, or the realities they represent, to exert their influence on the earth.
But they only arise at the precise moment that God determines. They are utterly powerless before God.
Apocalyptic literature helps us respond to reality emotionally, not just intellectually
It was quite common in Babylon to picture beasts like this, kind of hybrids, like some sort of genetic experiment gone horribly wrong. But the Jewish people thought much more in distinct categories. And much of the law was about, not mixing your categories,
Don’t wear clothes of 2 types of fabric woven together,
You can eat the meat the comes from animals that we might say are typical, cloven hoof, chew the cud, but don’t eat from animals that are kind of, mixtures. A Jew would never eat a platypus! The rest of us can! Except I think they’re endangered, so don’t!
It was all intended to remind God’s people that they were different, separate.
So if you’re a Jewish person who’d never eat a platypus, and you hear of weird hybrid beasts coming up out of the sea,
You’d respond emotionally, wouldn’t you?
And that’s’ the point.
As we’ve already seen, ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth,
But if were just told “4 kings will arise”, that doesn’t affect us in the same way, does it?
God is deliberately communicating in such a way as to engage our emotions, to get us to respond emotionally, to the events of history.
We’re supposed to feel.
We’re supposed to feel the seriousness,
The impact of evil forces, human forces, at work in the world.
You know, they talk about crisis-fatigue, where we’re exposed to so much bad news everywhere we look, that we no longer respond, that we’re no longer horrified by what we see.
Well, this is designed to cut through, so we see human sinfulness and rebellion for what it is,
So that we’re horrified when we see people setting themselves up against God,
So that we’re filled with compassion, when we see, for example in verse 7, the 4th beast, it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.
We’re supposed to feel,
But also we’re supposed to feel, that God’s in control.
What happened to those beasts?
Verse 4, it was lifted from the ground,
Verse 5, It was told,
Verse 6, it was given authority to rule
These beasts, these violent, terrible, destructive kings that they represent, they’re not in charge, are they?
But they are entirely under the control of God.
Think of the worst government you’ve experienced of can imagine. If these kingdoms are under the hand of God, then even that one you’re mindful of is.
It’s easy to say “God’s in control”
But when you’ve just felt like the world’s out of control,
Well, then the assurance that God is in control of his world is not just something in your head, it’s an assurance you feel in your heart, in your whole being.
Daniel sees all authority given to God’s king (v 9 – 14)
And so immediately the scene changes, just like that, like a newsflash cutting into regular programming.
And we’re suddenly zooming in on the throne room of heaven.
the Ancient of Days, that’s God, and where is he? He’s on his throne in heaven.
Beasts are raging,
Kingdoms are coming and going,
God’s on his throne.
Don’t ever think that earthly rulers are out of control. Of course, that’s the comfort,
The warning is, don’t be tempted to follow the example of these kings, who live as if God’s not there, as if God doesn’t see.
God’s ruling on his throne from heaven!
You know when law and order breaks down, people who are normally polite law-abiding sometimes just join in the fray, and throw bricks through windows, and start looting shops, and stuff?!
Not people like us of course! But others! But actually the warning is for us! When we see all manner of people throwing off God’s pattern for life, we can be tempted to join in with them.
This picture of the majestic God ruling from his throne in heaven, reminds us not to.
But the most significant part of this vision, is the end. One of the scholars I read this week commented “It would be no exaggeration to say that this chapter is one of the most important passages of the Old Testament.”
Here’s why: “, 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.
one, like a son of man, is a human. Think of how C S Lewis writes in the Chronicles of Narnia, “a son of Adam and a daughter of Eve”,
But to speak of “a son of”, also emphasises whatever it is that you’re a son of.
There’s a rude expression that I’m not going to use! If you’re already corrupted and you know that expression, the point is you’re being characterised as what you’re a son of!
What’s this figure a son of? Man. His humanity is emphasised.
And he’s coming into heaven, on the clouds. This is a human ascending from earth,
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.
We’ve seen the rise, and in a moment, the fall of kingdoms,
And yet in heaven, this human, who is worshiped, notice, he’s treated as God, he’s given sovereign power over everything.
There’s echoes of Genesis 1, he has dominion, exercising rule over God’s creation like humanity was supposed to.
And his kingdom, one that will never be destroyed, gives us a right perspective on the kingdoms represented by these beasts doesn’t it?
We’re about to see them destroyed.
The kingdom given to this human by God, is eternal.
God’s kingdom is eternal (v 15 – 28)
So with that assurance, come back to the interpretation.
The first beast, the one like a lion, but with the wings of an eagle, this is likely Nebuchadnezzar, the first of the Babylonian kings we met in Daniel.
The lion was considered the king of the animal world, as it is today.
Nebuchadnezzar was the golden head on the statue in Daniel 2.
Also, the wings being torn off point to Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity, and the loss of his power,
But then he was lifted from the ground, verse 4, and stood on two feet like a human, and he was given, the mind of a human.
Do you remember Daniel 5? After Nebuchadnezzar goes insane, God restores him, gives him his mind back.
Here we see the other part of understanding apocalyptic literature;, while our first approach is always to look for the impression, the broad brush strokes, there are times when we can understand it much more specifically, because the Bible itself gives us the interpretation.
Commonly though, Christians look for things in our world, and try and read them into the text.
So an actual example, the United Russia Party, their symbol is a bear, and so the second beast, is Russia, people say.
Vladimir Putin is going to rise up and destroy the world. So if Russia is the second beast, then maybe America is the first beast,
Maybe China is the third, and who knows what comes after that?
And you can see one of the difficulties of using outside keys to try and interpret it, instead using the Bible to interpret it, is that you can never be sure, and every generation or culture, will interpret it differently, depending on what they see around them.
And remember, Daniel wants us to understand this as an explanation of actual history, it’s not just a metaphor for whatever the bears are in your life! There is an actual reality represented here.
See, a bear is also the symbol of the city of Berlin. So, in our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, if we were looking to bring in an interpretive key from our own experience, the second kingdom would be Nazi Germany, and plenty of people thought that.
Of course, what then do you do with the other kingdoms?
You could never be sure.
And then in a generation or two’s time, when New Zealand is the rising world power, well, we all know that New Zealand has lots of sheep, and sheep have, ah! little horns just like in verse 8, so then we have to work backwards from the world super-power of New Zealand, to work out what the previous kingdoms are!
Do you see the problem, when we look for our experience to interpret the imagery?
No, we understand this type of literature in the Bible, when we first consider, what God’s already made known. And then, if there are bits that don’t seem to be explained, we can wonder if they apply to particular things in our day, but we need to hold those ideas very loosely, aware that Christians in every other generation saw things in their day, that they thought provided the interpretation.
The lion seems pretty clearly, then to be Babylon, and then just as in the statue in Daniel 2, the kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome probably follow.
Beasts one, 2, and 3 their kingdoms come to an end, but their influence goes on. Something of them gets absorbed into the kingdoms that follow.
If you take soup to work in a thermos, that’s a Greek word, a linguistic remnant of the 3rd beast.
The 4th beast seems to have a longer reign of influence.
Down in verse 23 we get a sense of how this kingdom will operate, trampling down and crushing all those it comes across. Not a bad way to characterise the empire that perfected and popularised crucifixion as a means of torture, execution, and keeping the populace in line!
But notice 10 kings, will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise. I think the wise approach is not to try and identify 11 different kings. I think the point is that there’s a lot;, initially as many as you can count on your hands. And they seem to be all at once, indicating that there is dissension in the empire. The people within it have divided loyalties.
But while God’s people will suffer because of it, it will only last for time, times and half a time, or one year, 2 years, and half a year, the end comes, quite suddenly, when no one’s really expecting it.
Once again reminding us, of the absolute control of God, over all these events.
We know that all of humanity has thrown off God’s rule,
We want to do what pleases us and serves us, rather than serving God’s purposes. That’s what the Bible calls sin, and it’s universal.
But there will be particular ones who arise, whose rejection of God’s pattern for life is especially violent,
People will suffer at their hands,
And particularly God’s people will suffer at their hands. Those people who trust in God and try to live distinct lives in order to honour him, they’ll feel the brunt of it.
And God here seems to be picturing, especially the next thousand ears, after Daniel’s life.
But he, and we, are reassured, that in comparison to the kingdom of this human who rules from heaven, these earthly kingdoms are short-lived, and their leaders will face a right and just judgment, in the eternal kingdom of this heavenly king.
And so think of God’s people who were taken off to Babylon as captives,
Or who watched as the Roman army marched into Jerusalem a few hundred years later,
Or Christians in North Korea, who feel powerless against a despotic regime who according to eye-witnesses, herd Christians off bridges with tanks, and crucify them over flames.
Imagine the comfort, the assurance, the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.
Now, again, that’s not to say that the 4th beast is any kingdom in our day that seems to set itself up against God. The evidence in Daniel is that this is Rome.
But if God can do this to Rome,
If even that mighty empire, and its leaders, will come under the judgment of God, then we need not be in any doubt that any leader or nation, or power in our day, will come to an end,
And those responsible for evil will face a right and just judgment.
We don’t need to read our experiences into the imagery, to be comforted, or challenged.
We apply this passage to our lives as it’s fulfilled in Christ.
But applying this passage to our lives goes further than that.
If you’ve been around Christian stuff for a while, where else do we hear this language of the “son of man”?
Well, it’s Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself, isn’t it? It’s used 81 times in the gospels, only ever about Jesus, and before Jesus, there’s not a single reference in all of the ancient literature, of anyone using it as a nickname for themselves.
But Jesus identifies himself as this person, and them gives us the application, what it means for us.
Right at the end of Matthew’s gospel account, we read these words that are printed on your outline.
Then Jesus came to the disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18 - 20
Matthew’s readers knew exactly who held All authority in heaven and on earth;, that glorious exalted human, from Daniel 7.
Jesus is unmistakably claiming to God’s king who rules from heaven, and because of that, he tells those of us who are his disciples, go and make more disciples.
The vision in Daniel 7 is strange, graphic, somewhat surreal, but the application for us who stand this side of the cross, is very real, and practical.
Are you, Christian person, making disciples?
Are you teaching people about Jesus?
Are you seeing people become obedient disciples and being baptised?
If, Daniel 7:27, His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him, then there’s no doubt about what we should be on about, is there?
No uncertainty over what our priorities should be?
No question as to which side we should be on.
You may have noticed the trend in public debate these days, of labelling your opponent as being “on the wrong side of history.” Have you heard that?
Well, it would be a terrible mistake to make here, wouldn’t it?
When we’ve seen exactly how things are going to pan out, to still make the choice, and not throw out lot in, on the right side of history.
Verse 27, His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom,
Whose plans will ultimately triumph?
His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom.
Whose priorities will be shown to have meaning and significance?
His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom.
Will we be able to avoid the consequences, if we spend our lives invested in other things, other than the kingdom of God?
His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom.
Is there something with lasting significance, that I can throw my life into, without any doubt than what I’m doing will last?
His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom.
Daniel 7 helps us not end up, on the wrong side of history.
God raises Daniel’s horizons to what Jesus will accomplish (Daniel 9)
Let’s finish by seeing if what we’ve learnt about apocalyptic can help us in other examples of this literature. And we’ll use Daniel 9 as our test case.
Flick over to chapter 9, and see how it opens. In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes t (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years
Then we have this great long prayer, and if you ever want some help in shaping your prayers of confession, not just personally, but for our corporate sins, spend some time in Daniel 9.
But down from verse 20, while Daniel is still praying, he’s given another vision.
Notice again we can’t separate the vision from the history.
The vision is linked to the prayer, Daniel practically falls over himself to emphasise that point, in verses 20, and 21, and 23.
The prayer is about that nation’s sin, their failure to keep the law, and therefore their exile to Babylon,
And opening couple of lines, link the Word of God through Jeremiah, to the events surrounding the exile to Babylon.
Having seen how Daniel points to God’s Word, and points to history, there’s no way that you could read the vision in verses 20 to 27, and interpret it apart from what God’s said in his Word, and without reference to the exile of God’s people in Babylon.
To say that verse 25, for example, is a promise that sometime in our day the modern city of Jerusalem will be expanded rips this right out of its context, doesn’t it?
The restoration promised here will last for Seventy ‘sevens’, which from what we see elsewhere in the Bible, could mean both 70 years, and seventy sevens of years.
Now, we’ve already been told about 70 years here haven’t we?
It’s when the exile will end, and by this stage of Daniel’s life, it’s imminent.
Daniel’s been waiting for the restoration of Jerusalem for 70 years, but now that he’s standing on the very cusp of it being fulfilled, God raises his eyes to an even greater reality, something that will unfold in 70 sevens of years, 490 years’ time.
Have you ever had that experience when you go into a shop to buy object X, but the salesperson convinces you of the advantages and all the useful features of object Y, which is several models up, and always costs much more?!
That’s kind of what happens here.
Daniel longs for Jerusalem to be restored, and it will, but God convinces him of something even better,
Something more lasting;,
An end to sin,
Atonement for wickedness, that is, the price being paid.
A new temple in Jerusalem could be destroyed, and in fact, will be destroyed, verse 26, but that won’t interfere with God’s great cosmic plans. In fact, as we’ve seen, these events that unfold over the next 490 years, as terrible as they are, they’re used by God, to achieve this much greater outcome;, an end to sin, atonement, lasting righteousness.
And again, familiarity with our Old Testament helps us interpret the imagery. In the law in Leviticus, a time period of seven sevens, was the time leading up to the year of Jubilee, after 49 years, a year of freedom and redemption was to be proclaimed. And this freedom and redemption would begin on the Day of Atonement.
If that’s what hearing about seven sevens made God’s people think about, then seventy sevens, focussed also on atonement, and an end to sin, it’s going to be even greater isn’t it?
A more lasting freedom,
And even greater redemption,
A true and permanent right standing before God, an everlasting righteousness.
It’s the Bible that helps us understand these visions, not importing our own ideas.
Of course, about 490 years after the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, that is, the edict of King Cyrus, or maybe the edict of king Artaxerxes to Ezra, it all depends on how you count years, but 490 years later Jesus Christ begins his earthly ministry.
He is, the Anointed One, who is put to death verse 26.
But actually, the original language doesn’t say “put to death”, it uses the verb “cut off”, which, you guessed it, is Old Testament language.
Literally you didn’t make a covenant. You would cut a covenant, because, yes, some animal would get cut. A sacrifice would be made, and a covenant relationship would be established.
It’s no wonder that the authors of the New Testament saw the ministry of Jesus as the rolling out of the kingdom of God, promised here in Daniel.
We might be fascinated, or intrigued, or even overwhelmed by these visions, but if we don’t look where they point, we’ve misunderstood and mis-used them entirely.
The Bible as one story of redemption and rescue that centres on Jesus. And every part, even these seemingly strange visions, point us to him, and point to him as the centre of God’s plans.
In 1869, Monet submitted his Magpie for exhibition in the Salon in Paris. And it was rejected.
The lack of detail meant the jury dismissed it as “too coarse.”
Today, because people look at the picture as Monet wanted us to, it’s the most popular artwork in the entire Musée d'Orsay, and is valued at somewhere upwards of 50 million US dollars.
Look at the picture!
Look at the picture as the artist wants us to see it, and see what he wants us to feel, and learn, and be.