Daniel Chapter Seven
Daniel chapter seven opens by looking back to the first year of Belshazzar’s reign and so, historically speaking, is before chapters five and six. The book now changes from history to mainly prophecy and begins by building on the picture of the large statue in chapter two, then moving to the All-Powerful One who holds history in His hands.
In having the prophecies placed in this part of Daniel, we see the heart of the book: God is in charge with the main theme being God’s sovereignty over all. As with chapter two, the time span is from Babylon to the coming of Christ and also looks to the end of time. God really is in charge. We would do well to remember who we belong to and that this world is His. As one man once said:
“It is, in the first instance, the very idea of God that guarantees that we can never reduce anything in creation merely to the stuff of which it consists. And, as for God Himself, what greater object of wonder can there be than one who is not the greatest thing in the world but beyond the world, of whom all things great and small declare, “He made us, we did not make ourselves”?”
The vison of four beasts
In this chapter, we have the vision of four beasts – a vision that takes place before the events of chapters five and six. Up until this point we have been seeing God’s sovereignty in actual events occurring around the lives of Daniel and his companions. The rest of the book speaks of a time span from Babylon to the end of time and reveals God as the Master of history. Here, in this chapter, the mention of beasts speaks of the predatory nature of worldly kingdoms.
Out of the churning sea of humanity and stirred by the four winds of heaven, four beasts appear. In the stirring of the sea we have a reminder of the original creation (Gen 1:1ff) where we see God fattening a world for the arrival of man with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. The invisible is going to be clothed with the visible as indeed iron filings can form the invisible magnetic pattern of a magnet, yet so much more. The world is birthed for the arrival of man, yet in Daniel seven we see what man produces. The sea was also a symbol of power (Jer 5:22) and the wicked in general. Here, we see the destructive ‘creativity’ of man.
“But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."
In the understanding of the day, animals were often used to personify kingdoms and in this chapter we read of the future rise and fall of empires. In a sense, history heads onwards towards the horizon yet is at no time out of the control of the One who is from everlasting to everlasting, that is, beyond the horizon of the horizons.
The first beast (a lion with wings) represents Babylon, where the images of winged lions were found on glazed tiles throughout the city. Nebuchadnezzar was the all-powerful ruler and the superpower of the day, yet the wings of the lion are torn off and the lion stands on two feet. In this, we have enacted the curtailing of Nebuchadnezzar’s power through illness and return to health in later years. Pride and self-confidence were to be removed, yet the empire was still set for destruction as the appearance of silver on the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream foretold. This kingdom of silver now takes on the appearance of a bear.
In reading of the bear we see that it has an unusual posture being raised on one side and smaller on the other. In this we see a depiction of the Medo-Persian Empire where both worked as one. Up until circa 650BC the Persians served the Medes (whilst retaining autonomy). In 559 Cyrus came to the Persian throne, overthrew the government and became the ruler of both Persians and Medes. We also see that the bear has three ribs in its mouth - this corresponding with the Persian conquest of the Lydian kingdom in Asia Minor 546 (under King Croesus 560-47BC), the Babylonian Empire in 539 and Egypt in 525.
After the Medo-Persian kingdom, we have the appearance of a strange-looking Leopard. Over a short distance Leopards can run at speeds of up to thirty-seven miles per hour, yet this leopard has four wings. The number four speaks of universality and the whole picture conveys a fast, all-encompassing conquest (and yet more than this). This corresponds with the rise of Alexander the Great and his Empire.
In his teens, Alexander the Great had Aristotle for a tutor and excelled at his studies. He was a general by the age of twenty and fought many battles without losing one. His conquests took him ten years and 22,000 miles of marching. At the age of 32, when he died after heavy drinking, war wounds and fever, he had become Pharaoh of Egypt, King of Afghanistan and Lord over every country south of the Caspian and Black Sea. Alexander the Great’s rage against the Persians was revenge for an earlier invasion of Greece by Xerxes and Persian cruelty to the Greeks. He would conquer Persia after three years.
The four wings and heads speak of speed and the four-fold Greek empire of Daniel 8:8 and 11:4, and of the four generals who divided Alexander’s empire after his death. The mention of birds wings as opposed to the wings of an eagle points to these generals as well. The four generals are leaders, but not like Alexander. Yet how was all this going to be worked out in the dustbowl of what life had become for fallen man?
Following Alexander’s death, there was great rivalry for his throne due to the lack of a capable successor. Within fifteen months of his death the rivalry would lead to the murder of Alexander’s brother, Philip Aridoeus, and two sons Alexander Aegus and Hercules. Due to no suitable successor being available, his empire was divided between four of his generals.
History moves on and empires inevitably rise and fall back to the dust of the ground. In parallel with the statue imagery of Daniel chapter two (Iron and clay), another beast arrives which represents the power and might of Rome.
The Roman Empire smashed through all that stood in its way and initially dominated all who opposed them. The ten horns could well be the kingdoms that emerged from Rome at the demise of the empire and the small horn could well represent a champion such as were Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Chairman Mao along with so many others in history.
The small horn has eyes and speaks of power, pride and the oppression of God’s people and the one who seeks to change set times. Yet as scripture states in many places…
“The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.”
"Whoever slanders his neighbour in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure. My eyes will be on the faithful in the land that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.”
The Heavenly Kingdom
God is in the business of redeeming time and the presence of the heavenly Kingdom is now brought into the picture. It is the kingdom of the One who is beyond the horizons of the horizons – beyond time. It is the kingdom of the One whose love is from everlasting to everlasting (Ps 103:17).
The canvas is expanded as a throne is described and the Ancient of Days takes His seat with imagery that speaks of the purity, brilliance and holiness of God. Many centuries later in the New Testament times, we read of Jesus being transfigured and clothed in dazzling white (Mk 9:3, Lk 9:29). Later, in the book of the Unveiling (Revelation), we also read of white horses (Rev 6:2;19:11) and the white robes of glorified saints (Rev 3:4-5,18; 4:4; 6:11, 7:9, 13-14) clearly speaking of God’s work alone. There is also the mention of a white stone (Rev 2:17) and a white cloud (Rev 14:14) and throne of judgment (Re 20:11).
Verses eleven and twelve and prevailing attitudes
In verses eleven and twelve we read of the beast being slain and thrown into the fire whilst other kingdoms are stripped of their authority but allowed to live for a while. In sense this can be seen the prevailing attitudes that remain, even amongst conquered people.
When the military might and power of a kingdom is destroyed, it does not necessarily follow that the heart of the people has changed. This was seen, for example, at the Nuremburg trials at the end of the Second World War. Many Nazi war criminals had been totally stripped of their power, yet were still exactly the same in heart and mind. However there were also those who came to Christ.
Attitudes traverse national boundaries and are not necessarily crushed through wars, although their power to inflict pain and destruction can be removed. This is something that we need to recognise again and again. Many governments set themselves up as the embodiment of law and order, yet in reality all they can do is restrain disorder and in trying to do so, sometimes end up crushing the very people they assume they are protecting.
Apart from this, we see in history that some kingdoms are absorbed into others and allowed to continue in a different form. However, in the light of the Eternal One there will be a time when all that is evil will be totally removed from the earth. In all of this it is important to realise that since Daniel is not so much about the precise nature of particular kingdoms, but the truth that God knows all things and that nothing is outside of His control. He speaks into the world as and when He likes as the Master of all things who seeks, in grace and mercy, to redeem a fallen world.
In a different vision, this time given to Ezekiel (whilst in a Babylonian prison camp on the Kebar River), we see yet again something of the other-worldly power of the Eternal One…
“Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
Justice and Peace
All that Daniel has or will experience is within the control and will of the eternal One. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go and man’s inhumanity to fellow man is increasingly evident for all to see. Yet God is always in control and He will bring His judgment to bear as and when He sees fit as He establishes justice in this wayward world. But what is justice?
In our present day society most of us would associate judgement with being sentenced or acquitted in a court of law. Yet the biblical words for judging and judgement convey a much more powerful picture. This is because the biblical words have the connotation of "to arrange" or " to put in order again." Think of it this way: in your minds, think of three jigsaw puzzles that are accidentally pushed off the window-sill of a second-floor flat by a young child. The jigsaws fall to the ground and get mixed up. The rain comes down and some of the cloluring is washed off of the pieces, and the wind blows other pieces away. Whilst you and I have no hope of putting the puzzles back together again, God does. He sees and knows all things - even the bits that are missing in our thinking - and He is the One who can put things back as they should be. This helps us see an aspect of judgement, which is, "to arrange" / "to put in order again."
Only God holds the full blueprint of life and knows what our lives would have been like if sin was not present; if we had not damaged our life or had them damaged by others. As well as knowing this, God is the only One who truly knows how the wrong attitudes and thought processes of this wayward world have really impacted our lives. Therefore God is the only One who can clearly see how our thinking may need to change. He is the One who judges accurately, and the main aim of God’s judgement is not condemnation (John 3:17; Romans 8:1) but the restoration of wholeness.
God will bring judgement upon evil as he sees fit (Gen 6:13) and the way this happens in space and time points forward to a season when the timeless One will exercise end-time judgment on the earth. We see this in Daniel’s vision where judgment (removal of evil and restoration of harmony) speaks of past, present and future events.
Whilst the events of Daniel 7 can be related to the kingdoms mentioned in both chapters two and seven, they go beyond this to the One who judges the whole of time. It is also worth repeating at this point that although evil may arise in many forms, it will ultimately be totally removed by the One who is never taken by surprise, who is attended by tens of thousands and who will eventually throw all evil into blazing fire.
Fire is often used to speak of divine judgment; for example we have the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24) and the fire that consumed the followers of Abiram who led a conspiracy against Moses (Ps 106:17-18). In Daniel 7:11 we read of the little horn with arrogant words being destroyed with its body being thrown into flaming fire. Whilst referring to people such as, Antiochus Epiphanes, the ‘little horn’ also speaks of all who would oppose God. Note, for example, that in the book of Revelation, Babylon is personified as the “mother of prostitutes” (Rev 17:5).
The heavenly court
The court we read of in Daniel 7 is seated on earth, yet comes from heaven and then a human-like figure comes to be invested as King. He is given sovereignty and rule such as mentioned in the first symbolic dream in 2:44-5. Worldly kingdoms will rise and fall (7:23) yet no matter the opposition, the truth remains: the true King of Kings will take His place and as the Second Adam, will execute judgment on the earth. We are now going to focus on the One who is given all power and authority and is the centre of and reason we have history in the first place. In doing this, we will briefly cover the span of history which ultimately occurs because the Alpha and Omega is in control. After this, we will take a very brief look at the end of the chapter since the events are repeated later in Daniel and in more detail.
One like a son of man
The Son of Man (as used in Daniel and the gospels) speaks of the humanity and supernatural origin of the Messiah. In Daniel, the Son of Man’s entrance into history and His royalty and ruler-ship over history is imaged in the riding of a ‘chariot-cloud’ as the divine warrior (Ps 68:4). He is presented before the throne of the Ancient of Days and given all power and dominion. The end-time prophecy of the coming Messiah – the Son of Man – has begun to be fulfilled, is being fulfilled at this very moment and will be fully realised at some time in a future that is most definitely in His hands. We are in the ‘now-but-not-yet’ of His story.
In Matthew 26:63 Jesus identifies Himself as the Son of God who is the ‘Son of Man’ spoken of in Daniel 7:13-14 and during His ministry, He clearly revealed the three roles of the Son of Man. He is the suffering servant (a), the future-coming King (b) and the heavenly man (c) who is Lord of the Sabbath. We now turn to look at these three aspects of the Son of Man, beginning with the Suffering Servant.
The suffering servant
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
As the Son of Man, Jesus is the One who was rejected and suffered in man’s place yet would rise victorious. In the place of suffering and evil, He brought forth great power and blessing for the repentant rebel.
In John 12:33 Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" this speaking of the death he was going to go through. Yet in order to complete the full picture, we have to link this verse with Isaiah 52:13-14 where we read…
"See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him - his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness".
Jesus personally chose to lay down His life (John 10:18, Phil 2:7) and no one had the power to take it away from Him, hence He ‘gave up His spirit’ (John 19:30). Unlike so many that seek to protect their reputation, Jesus was willing to give His life, lose any reputation He might have had and be viewed by onlookers as a rebel. So much so that they mocked Him whilst He hung upon a cross, seeking to remove the life and breath of the very One who allowed them to breathe in the first place. Within this perfect man there was no hint of sin and as a willing substitute, He lifted up and took away our wrong doing, now acting as our Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
At the crucifixion of Jesus, the sky was darkened in such a way that it must have been virtually impossible for the priests to perform their religious duties in the preparation of the Passover Lambs.
In truth, the true preparation had been done by the Son of God, the One who offered sacrifice and was also the sacrifice. Religious people tried to perform their duty – but that was never going to be enough. Thousands of years ago in a completely different setting, Solomon had spent great time and money preparing for the return of the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple. Yet the presence of God descended in such great measure that they were unable to perform any of their religious duties.
As believers, our position is that of those restored to fullness of life by way of position, yet in the here and now we are going through the work of being restored in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the transformer of existence into life. No matter what we go through, He is the limitless One and in Him we can do things far beyond our own abilities.
In his book, ‘Surprised by Jesus’ (pages170-1), Tim Stifford tells the story of a Sri Lankan woman called, Lalani. Lalani’s husband had been a Buddhist Monk who came to Christ after reading a Christian tract. He went to Bible College and then went back to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka where he had become a Christian. He met and married Lalani and they had a son and began a small house church but suffered great opposition from Buddhist Monks who went door to door warning people against being involved with the Christians.
On March 25th 1988, Lalani’s husband was murdered and her landlord asked her to leave because he was afraid of further violence. Protests were organised against the church and the roof was burned down. A new building programme was started but Church members were threatened and made to surrender their Bibles which were then burnt. Workers were threatened and the project stopped.
In April 1999 whilst a new construction was being built, petrol-bombs were thrown at the church. Yet contributions came in, the church building was finished and opposition died out. There are now twelve hundred believers in a place where there had been none and seven house churches have started in the area. They, like us, are part of a generation that will not pass away…
"Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
From all the events leading up to and including Calvary, we see that elevation by which Jesus’ executioners sought to humiliate and ruin Him, however, this was actually His exaltation, revealing the self-sacrificing love of God. In the weakness of apparent defeat and receiving in His body the fruit of fallen man’s raw hatred, Jesus revealed an incredible truth. This world is undergirded with a divine love that is not quenched by man’s inhumanity to fellow man.
(b)The future-coming King.
“At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
In the Son of Man we have the Servant-King, the outside of time life-breather entering our suffering and rebellion in order to bring forgiveness and salvation, yet who will also exercise judgment when God restores harmony and justice in His world. No wonder Jesus said to the High Priest:
"And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
The response of the High Priest reveals the sheer rage and anger of a man caught up in his own definitions of religion. Yet to those who wanted to know, Jesus clearly revealed who He is and what He could do as we look at His words to the man who’d received his sight yet been thrown out of the Temple.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.”
In the resurrection, there will be the reversal of decay and a raised body that is similar to (yet more powerful than) what we have at present.
The first Adam was fearfully and wonderfully made, yet still a human being who was unable to sustain life on his own. Due to this, and the effects of the fall, we are called to our only hope: to rest in the work of another.
The second Adam, on the other hand, is completely different. Jesus is not just a living being, He is the life-giving One and comparing the difference between a lit match and the light of the sun does not truly signify the difference between the two men spoken of as ‘Adam’. Yet this Second Adam came in the weakness and limitation of the first Adam, so as to stand in our place. He is the Incarnate Son of God, the Second Adam and the life-restorer who will return in the clouds of heaven (Mk 14:62).
The return of this King will not be whispered around in dark corners, but will be as sudden and as obvious as a flash of lightning (Matthew 24:27): no-one will have to point it out. It will be the place of the last battle (v28) with the language of God’s judgement being used to speak of a world-changing event.
“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not vive its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
(c) The heavenly man and the clouds of heaven.
As the heavenly man, Jesus is the Son of God incarnate who has power to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) and the One who will one day return in power and glory (Mark 21:27).
"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 peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
In scripture, God is sometimes spoken of as the one who “…rides on the clouds, his name is the LORD...” (Psalm 68:4) therefore clouds can be associated with His presence. For example, the recently released Israelites were led by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night as they began their journey out of Egypt (13:21).
When the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptians, the angel of God who had been travelling in front of Israel withdrew and went behind them as did the pillar of cloud that was accompanying them (Ex 14:19). Note that it was the cloud that brought darkness to the one side and light to the other, thus keeping the opposing armies apart by the Red Sea (Ex 14:20). We also see that it was during the last watch of the night that God looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud and threw the Egyptian army into confusion (v24). Then, as Paul says in 1 Cor 10:1-14, Israel was under the cloud as she passed through the sea whilst the pursuing Egyptian army was destroyed. In this we see judgement on the enemy and blessing for those who trusted in the Lord, they being brought into a new place by the presence of the Lord. As Paul continued to say…
“…They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:3-4
A picture of God, as a ‘cloud-rider’ bringing judgement is also found in Isaiah where we read:
“See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him and the hearts of the Egyptians within them.”
“The cloud represents God’s presence but also his hiddenness (see Lam 2:2). No one can see God and live, so the cloud shields people from actually seeing the form of God. It reveals God but also preserves the mystery that surrounds him.”
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery page 156.
It was out of a cloud on what was later called the Mount of Transfiguration that our heavenly Father spoke of Jesus as the Son whom He had chosen (Luke 9:35) and Jesus in return is spoken of in Revelation 1:7 as with the clouds of heaven. Turning back in scripture to Matthew’s gospel we also read of the judgement that He brings…
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. "Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."
Unlike many trees in Palestine which keep their leaves throughout the year, the fig tree doesn’t and therefore its leaves reveal the seasons: in winter the branches appear dead, with leaves arriving in the spring. The tree does not bring spring or summer but is a clear indication that it is arriving. To the Israelite, the productiveness of the fig tree was a sign of peace and favour, as was the fullness of the harvest. Conversely, the removal of the harvest (no figs) was viewed as judgement from God:
'I will take away their harvest, declares the Lord. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.'"
A picture of judgement
In Jerusalem, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had not produced fruit and the disciples were amazed to see that it withered and died, especially since it was not the season for figs anyway (Mk 11:13). Jesus would have known it was not the season for figs, yet had gone to a tree that looked as if it should have figs and then cursed it because there was no fruit. So what is Jesus showing us?
Many in Jerusalem were proud of the look of the Temple and their ability to worship God the right way – in their own eyes. Unfortunately this placed a heavy burden on already burdened people with the Sabbath being made into something (in the hands of man) that crippled man instead of releasing him into rest and blessing. God’s house was to be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but man had made it into a den of robbers (Mark 11:17). The effect Jesus’ words had on the chief priests and teachers of the law who were responsible for encouraging, uplifting people and helping them see God was that they looked for a way to kill Him because they feared Him. We so often judge what we do not know or what we often wrongly perceive as a threat. From this we see that in all the finery and pomp and ritual of the temple, there was the promise of life yet no fruit. It is like a woman who appears pregnant and then gives birth to wind.
“We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world.”
Whilst outwardly looking good, there was no real fruit in a temple where outer courts were used by the monetary exchange to charge exorbitant exchange rates on an already struggling populace.
In the first advent arrival of the Son of Man we have One who did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). Had God chosen to, He could have justifiably crushed the temple and all who were in it because of the way in which it produced a man-centred harvest and not a God empowered fruitfulness. As already mentioned, it looked good to many, but had no fruit. In going to the fig-tree, Jesus reveals what could have happened had He not been willing to exercise grace towards humanity.
The fig-tree looked good, but produced nothing and was therefore removed. It may not have been the season for figs in a fallen creation, yet the fig tree should, in a perfect creation, have continually produced a harvest as is hinted at in Revelation: fruit every season. If Jesus were to judge the religious leaders by their idea of perfection then they, like the fig tree, would have been destroyed. Instead He reaches out with the offer of His righteousness.
In response to the amazement of the disciples on seeing that the fig-tree had died, Jesus said…
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
In the first century ‘moving mountains’ was a common expression meaning, ‘doing the impossible. Note that Jesus did not say, “If you pray, you can say to this mountain…” but, “if you say.” The prerequisite to this is a deep abiding relationship with God and a total reliance on the Holy Spirit. No one can just walk around invoking the power of God as if it is their right to do so.
Jesus also said, “If you believe you will receive what you ask for in prayer.”(Mt 21:22-23). What validates faith is its object and we have to be rooted and established in the Word of God and know the presence of God by the Spirit. All too often I come across people who have great ideas and then ask God to endorse them. In reality, scripture starts the other way round. It is through remaining in Him that we can understand His will and ask according to how He leads us (John 15:7).
“This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. "Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."
The term ‘generation’ is used in at least two ways in scripture. Firstly it can refer to the offspring of a family (a continuing generation) and secondly it can refer to people with a particular character of disposition who are not necessarily biologically related. For example on one occasion, Moses, speaks of those around him as a perverse and crooked generation (Deut 32:5) and elsewhere we read David’s words in Psalm 24:
“…Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”
I believe that Jesus’ words about this generation not passing away are to be viewed in two ways, which in accordance with prophetic utterances, sometimes has an initial partial fulfilment and then a later fulfilment.
There are those who were physically present with Jesus - who were part of ‘this generation’ and yet also part, as we all are, of ‘the generation which is not passing away.’
We are all part of the company of the righteous (Ps 14:5), the “receivers of grace and mercy one” who span history as the generation of the righteous in the righteousness of God. Therefore, the events which we are now going to look at prophetically speak of partial fulfilment of prophecy (destruction of the Temple in 70AD), yet also go beyond this to end times.
In 66 AD, Emperor Nero, sent an army under, Vespasian, to deal with a Jewish revolt. By 68-9 AD resistance had been greatly diminished and Rome turned her attention on Jerusalem. In the same year, Nero committed suicide and Vespasian returned to Rome and was made Emperor (though some thought he was still Nero back from the dead – see Revelation). Vespasian’s son, Titus, then led the final attacks on Jerusalem. Legions surrounded the city and built siege ramps against the walls. These were burnt and earthen ramps were put in place. The city was breached and the Temple at the centre of Jerusalem was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed with many dying in the Romans arena’s and others being sent as slaves to Egypt. All of this occurred within forty years of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
The early Christian community (mainly made up from Jewish converts) saw the events of 70AD also as punishment for the rejection of the Messiah and preference of Barabbas. Remember that those who were present at Jesus’ trial had said, “Let His blood be on us and on our children.” (Mt 27:25).
In speaking of the events that were to occur, Jesus had told His listeners to pray that their flight would not take place in winter or on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20) because there was going to be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again. Many Jews who had accepted the Messiah fled the city of Jerusalem (as did some non-messianic Jews) when the Romans approached, understanding this to be fulfilment of Jesus’ words, “take flight.” In saying take flight to the mountain’s hills we understand that Jesus is speaking of what was going to happen in Jerusalem, since going to the mountains would be pointless if it were a world-wide tribulation of all people.
The destruction of the temple and everything associated with it came about because of judgment on a now-defunct system. It is now those who are born again that are the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 3:18).
Jesus said that there would be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now and never to be equalled again (Mat 24:21). Josephus (the historian) comments on the atrocities that occurred in the destruction of Jerusalem and speaks of the massacre of over one million people, with one hundred thousand survivors being sold into slavery.
In all things and in all ways man is able to stand no matter what he goes through insofar as he is resting in the Lord.
“The prophecy of the Lord approached its literal fulfilment: Jerusalem was razed to the ground, the temple burned, and not one stone was left upon another."
Philip Schaff in, History of the Christian Church p. 397-398.
In all of these events we need to recognise that scripture speaks of war, famine and suffering that has already occurred and yet also of the general unrest of the world. From an earthly perspective this can look like death throes, yet in reality it is part of birth pangs. God is building His church, yet not through a protest movement. Whilst it is necessary to stand against all that is wrong in our world, we must not do so at the expense of sharing the love of Christ. Bill Johnson in his book, ‘Experience the Impossible’ comments on this in this way:
“Have you ever considered that much of the Church today is known for what we oppose- rather than for love? Take politics. Much of the Church raises protest banners, writes letters of criticism and publically denounces politicians and other public figures for their sinful ways. “He goes on to speak of how Jesus functioned completely differently:
“Sinners sought the chance to be with Jesus. The thieving tax collector Zacchaeus climbed a tree just to get a glimpse of Him. Upon noticing this man in a tree, Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. The prostitute broke all protocol to enter a religious leader’s home just to weep at Jesus’ feet and wash them with her tears. The list of such encounters is impressive through the gospels. Any harshness from Jesus was always aimed at religious leaders who defiled His message by keeping people away from the freedom He provided.”
Bill Johnson in ‘Experience the Impossible’ pages 82-83
We are called to rest in the love of God and out of this we will feed on His promises and grow in His grace to reach a lost and hurting world. Daniel was a man who knew how to rest in the Lord. As one well-known theologian once said, “The best thing I can do is slow down.” All those who truly serve the Lord are those who rest in His presence and listen to their heavenly Father. In light of this we now pause to look at Sabbath rest.
The Sabbath and Lord of the Sabbath
It is easy to get caught up in all the visions, prophecies and imagery that we find in Daniel and end up very confused and lose the main point in what is being revealed. The main point is that God’s kingdom is an eternal Kingdom overarching the whole of history. Worldly kingdoms come and go but the work of God goes on forever and in all things, whether great or small, God can be known. He knows each of us by name, knows the number of hairs on our head and sees every glass of water given in His name. We are noticed, cared for and very much loved and should never let that which is powerful in the created order eclipse our view of the Creator in all His power and glory.
In the way that Daniel keeps his eyes and life open to God, we see a man resting in the presence of the Lord. Daniel is a very small person in a very big empire and yet ends up in charge of whole districts. He rubs shoulders with world leaders and yet he is never overwhelmed by them. In all of this we see a man who is continually open to receiving from the Lord, a man who is continually seeing as God wants him to see. In amidst of all the ups and downs of our lives, we need to understand the call to rest in Him. In order to help us do this, we now look at how the Sabbath developed and how it is that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and that our true rest is found in Him alone.
In Genesis we read of God resting on the seventh day; in six days the world was created for man whilst on the seventh, God gave His attention to being with Man.
God blessed the day and made it holy (Gen 2:3). However, the seventh day is not spoken of as the Sabbath until the time of Israel’s desert wanderings. Whilst in the desert (known as the place of hearing) after deliverance from Egypt, God taught His people to trust in Him alone. Therefore, on one occasion we read the following words…
"This is what the Lord commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'"
In their desert wanderings, God provided food every day, but on the sixth day He provided double so that they could rest in Him. As already mentioned, this resting is not a cessation of activity, it is engaging with God. It is also during the desert wandering that Israel was constantly taught that man does not live by bread alone.
“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
To humble self speaks of breaking down the walls of protection that we have built as if we were the owners of our lives. In doing this and turning to Him we find our true rest. God is our provider and ultimately this provision is seen in Jesus in whom we are called to rest.
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
We are members of the Kingdom of God which transcends time, interacts through time and of which we are a part of by the virtue of Christ as those empowered by the Spirit. Resting is spoken of in scripture as a cessation of one’s own activity in order to feed on and grow in the work of another. This then is how it is that Daniel not only survived in Babylon, but overcame all and was party to seeing a future that remained firmly in God’s control.
In the kingdom this sort of resting – opening our hearts to our heavenly Father – will result in a deeper and more powerful relationship with Him, evidenced in great Christlikeness of character and awareness of God. Rest is about deliberately making time for God: It is a re-orientating of the mind to focus on and feed on all that He has provided as our Father, Redeemer and Empowerer…
Throughout the history of the Bible and the church we see people resting in the Lord, sometimes in the most difficult and destructive of situations. In the following two true-life examples, we see how people exercised their faith in very different situations. In doing so we remind ourselves that God is just as much with those who die for their faith (Acts 7:55f) as He is with those whom by virtue of the Holy Spirit, are able to see people healed, delivered and set free no matter what else is going on.
The first example is from Tacitus, a Roman historian who lived from AD 56-117. He is best known for his record of how the Emperor Nero responded to Christians after the great fire of Rome. Nero blamed the Christians and Tacitus writes of the event in the Annals, 15:44 where he says:
“First Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animal skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his gardens for the spectacle and exhibited displays in the circus, at which he mingled with the crowd – or stood in a chariot, dressed as a charioteer. Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt that they were being sacrificed to one man’s brutality rather than to the national interest.”
Quoted in, The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible buy J. Holden and N.Geisler, pages 298-9
The Roman Empire continuously sought to unify all their conquests under imperial worship and there were those who pursued this with fanatical zeal. For example, Caligula (AD37-41) decided to declare himself a god and told the governor of Judea to put a statue with his face on it in the Temple in Jerusalem. The governor of Judea knew he would be in trouble if he didn’t, but also knew that he would be in even more trouble with the Jews if he did. Eventually Caligula’s friend, Herod Agrippa, managed to persuade the emperor to delay the order. Shortly after this, Caligula was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard. Emperors would come and go, yet throughout their reigns and despite great persecution, the church continued to grow as ordinary everyday people came to realise that they were actually being called into the most amazing of stories.
The Christian community was the most persecuted community in the Roman Empire with many Emperors systematically trying to destroy it. Yet when the Empire collapsed, the true Church was still standing. Perhaps the Islamic State should take note of this and of Christian history. No matter how persecuted the church is, it still stands triumphant when it stands in the strength of the One it is called to rest in: the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Church not only stands but is also able to progress in the grace-giving presence of the Holy Spirit. The One who was with the early believers in their suffering is present with us today.
The second example of how Christians are able to rest in the work of the Lord as they reach out to others is seen in part of a letter written by Tertullian, a Christian Apologist and theologian who lived from AD160-225. His letter was one of protest to the proconsul in North Africa during persecutions. He speaks of how people were getting delivered and healed and writes:
“The clerk of one of them (the Roman officials), who was liable to be thrown upon the ground by an evil spirit, was set free from his affliction; as was also the relative of another, and the little boy of a third. And how many men of rank (to say nothing of common people) have been delivered from devils, and healed of diseases” Even Severus himself, the father of Antonine (the emperor), was graciously mindful of the Christians; for he sought out the Christian Proculus, surnamed Torpacion, the steward of Euhodias, and in gratitude for his having once cured him by anointing he kept him in his palace till the day of his death.”
Tertullian in, ‘To Scapula’ quoted by R. Clark in, ‘There is More’ p 160-1
We are stewards of our lives, not the owners
In this world a person’s strength and power is often measured by their material wealth and position. In the Kingdom of God the strength of character and power in the Spirit is indicative of how much a person rests in the Lord. Daniel overcame and was party to visions of the future and visions of the Holy One because he rested in the Lord. Daniel put God first in all things as did so many before him, from peasants to kings.
For example, throughout the Psalms we read of David facing difficulty yet being able to overcome whatever came his way through recognising that he belonged to God and was called to rest in him before all else. Just as we are, David was continually called to reorientate his thinking around the teaching of God.
All life belongs to God and that includes yours and mine. In light of this, we must recognise that we are the stewards of our lives rather than the owners. In recognising this we must wait on the Lord as we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.
“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
Our limitations are always our limitations or those that have been put upon us by others: yet God is not limited by that which would seek to impose self on us.
In China, there is the state registered Three-Self Patriotic Church, which is largely controlled by the state whilst the underground church is heavily persecuted. However even in this controlled-church and with those who have little or no faith, God still reaches out in grace and mercy.
“A Three Self pastor reported that he found in is church believers praying over a girl that the local doctor had just pronounced dead; the desperate mother had brought her to the church. “The girl recovered”. When an imprisoned believer prayed for a prostitute in the prison, the latter was healed and quickly accepted Christ. A farmer with a tumour on his leg solicited for prayer a retired physics professor ordained in the state-approved church movement. Doctors had said that only an operation could remove the tumour, yet this operation would cost more than a year’s wages for the farmer. Despite the former scientists’ scepticism about divine healing, he prayed for the man with sincere compassion, a few weeks later, when he visited the farmer’s village again, the man ran up to him and showed him that the tumour was almost gone.”
Prof C. Keener in ‘Miracles’ The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, p 300.
Daniel was overwhelmed by the events communicated to him (Dan 7:15), yet he ultimately understood that the One who pulls back the curtain of time and reveals life in the physical and spiritual realms was in complete control.
Today we live in a time where we have more power at our disposal than at any other point in history, yet it is also a time where we so clearly reveal our weakness. We live in a world where no-one has to starve, be looked down on, or be overcome by warring factions; yet it is all present. The power of man displays the weakness and failure of man, yet in Jesus we see what man could be like when focused on and trusting in a heavenly Father.
We are part of a bigger picture than first meets the eye
In looking at the miracles of Jesus, we must recognise that what we are seeing are not random acts of healing, deliverance or control over nature. Instead, they are occurrences that are part of a much bigger picture; a picture we need to be engaging with.
The miracles of Jesus are part of what it means to see God in action: the All compassionate One – the Life Breather – restoring and uplifting broken lives. In everything Jesus did we see the rule and reign of the kingdom of God – a kingdom that cannot be earned or built on in our own strength. The entrance into this kingdom is through Jesus and requires a yielded and penitent heart; it is a kingdom that can only be received (Luke 18:17).
The power and presence of this Kingdom can only really be known insofar that we are willing to receive from God and living according to His plan in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through Christ, God has broken into and continues to break into our sphere of existence with life itself. Yet do we really see all that He chooses to reveal by word and Spirit? Do we recognise that we are part of an ongoing plan that has been in place since before the beginning of time? Do we recognise that we are part of a much much bigger picture which is firmly in His control or do we wrongly assume that God just randomly touches our lives on the odd occasion?
Throughout his life, Daniel engages with God whether in refraining from breaking the dietary code of his people, making sure God receives the glory, standing alongside his people in heart and mind or delivering difficult messages to pagan kings. Daniel could only do this because he knew God and knew that God did not come into his story so much as lead him ever deeper into the true story of life which is God’s alone. If we do not see this then we will struggle. Think of it this way.
Imagine two friends going into an Art gallery together, with each person only being able to see one colour in each painting. For example, one person sees emerald greens and the other cobalt blues. On leaving the gallery both friends are excited about the colour they saw but they don’t realise that they have missed out on the whole gallery.
You may think this a very strange picture to paint, but there are many who are very limited in how they think God should or should not move. They see certain things as being of God, whilst others are rejected. They seek the presence of the Spirit in their own lives but forget they are part of a much larger canvas. They see random acts of God’s goodness but never really understand who they are in Christ or their calling as Christians.
The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God and there is nothing in it that can be classified a random act divorced from what else God is doing. For example, the miracles of God are not to be seen as some high-point in the kingdom. Instead they are the ‘normal’ of God’s kingdom – a kingdom that is breaking in right here and now. The kingdom of God is not a nice feeling or an isolated experience to prop our lives upon; it is the power and presence of His rule and reign.
All too often we seek to put our experiences of God into our own view of life, so to speak, rather than seeing the bigger picture. We need to make sure we don’t attempt to tie God down with hearts and minds that are not centred on God. If we are not pointing to Him in all that we think, say and do, then we will struggle and quench the Spirit.
For example, after the feeding of over five thousand men, we see Jesus withdrawing from the crowd (John 6:26) because they wanted to crown Him King and put Israel back in pole position. They were trying to place Jesus into their framework of thinking. When the crowds followed Jesus, He pointed out that they had not done so because of the miracles, but because they had been fed with free food.
The feeding of over five thousand people was an act of great compassion and generosity and the outworking of a Kingdom that is not present at our beck and call to simply make our lives easier. Those who wanted to make Jesus king were doing little more than seeking to place Him in their experiences and views concerning what should or should not happen in life.
If we really want to see more of the power and glory of God in our lives then we need to recognise our need to see things from His perspective. God has approached us so that we can then approach Him. He has not approached us so that we can bring Him into our worldview, as if He were some sort of cosmic cleanser at our disposal. We are called to follow Him and in doing so, become more available to the power, presence and way of the Kingdom lived in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In one village in India Christian workers arrived to build a ‘Jesus well’ in order to provide clean water for the locals. A man named Vachan continuously tried to get the landowner and locals to stop the project, but he failed.
The village, including Vachan’s family enjoyed the benefits but then Vachan’s mother was diagnosed with leprosy and the village cut them off and told them to draw water from a mud well over an hour away.
The pastor who had initiated the Jesus well heard about this and went and visited Vachan, telling him to draw water from the well again. This amazed Vachan: the man he had threatened to kill was helping him. Over the next few months Vachan’s attitude towards Christians began to change and when a Christian prayed for his mother she began to experience healing. The whole family are now committed Christians. (story provided by Gospel for Asia)