Friday, 9 October 2015

Daily Reading: Daniel 7 'Opposition to the Kingdom

Daniel 7 is a vision given to a man in exile.  A man who is faithfully slinging to the promises of God as he serves a foreign king and empire.  In it we see Daniel feeling overwhelmed, just look at (15) Daniel is “troubled in spirit, and the dreams that passed through my mind disturbed me.”  The chapter is about how to see the world; did you notice the repeated words “vision”, “looked”, “watched”. This vision is an encouragement to view the world rightly. There are three lessons God has for us here as we test our view of the world:

1. See the Real World (1-8)

Daniel 7 is a shocking montage of images, no sooner does one fade than another more shocking one takes it place. But these are not abstract pictures they are about the world Daniel and we live in. The great sea (2) represents the chaos and confusion that is the world without God and from out of that chaos emerge world rulers who are brutal and oppressive.  So there is the lion with eagles wings, there’s the bear who we see in the middle of devouring something, there is the leopard with 4 heads and wings, and there is the terrifying fourth beast who is “very powerful… had large teeth… crushed and devoured its victims...” Then from here come 10 more rulers and finally another who opposes God himself and persecutes God’s people.

There have been lots of attempts to work out who these beasts are, and there are clues to help us do so, but the danger in doing so is that we miss the big point. In apocalyptic books, as here and in Revelation we are meant to get the big picture not fixate on the details.  The big picture of Daniel 7 is of all of world history marked by the rise of fall of brutal rulers and world powers. I guess as we look back on world history we can see that for ourselves.

History will be marked by powers that oppress God’s people (21). This figure is making war against God’s holy people, and (25) emphasises the same point again; “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his Holy People and try to change the set times and laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hand for a time, times and half a time.”  The people of God will face oppression from governments, rulers and powers. Did you know that 1in10 Christians alive today live in persecution? In Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines. In India a few years ago near Christmas 95 churches and 730 Christian homes were burnt down in 48 hours. Daniel 7 is there to help us see the real world, to open our eyes, to prepare us and to encourage us that none of it takes God by surprise and to share Daniel’s concern for God’s people.

It’s easy to think persecution is not an issue we face in Britain, certainly not overtly from our leaders. But we live in an unusual period of peace it Britain; we live in the eye of the storm, and there is a very real sense in which, if we are aware of it, those times are changing and Christianity is increasingly under attack.  It may well be that we are heading back towards opposition as secular fundamentalism grows, as laws protecting Christian freedoms are gradually removed. As society fragments and people either believe or oppose belief. But Dan 7 says God knows, and he sees. Do I see the Real World and the conflict we are part of?

2. See our Sovereign judge (9-11)

There is a danger both for Daniel and ourselves here, either it is not recognising the nature of the world we live in or in being too focused on the beasts. In the images of (9-11) God shows Daniel reality; he pulls back the curtains of history and shows him where real authority is. (8) Daniel is in danger of being overwhelmed by the images of the beasts; he is troubled and disturbed (15). But (9-11) he sees a new vision of God the sovereign judge.

And whilst chaos accompanies the visions of the beast (2) here all is calm, authority and majesty mark this scene. As the eternal God takes his seat there is no striving or struggling for power, as he sits on his throne of judgement his splendour and majesty are apparent. As he begins judging and “the court was seated, and the books were opened.” there is no challenge to his authority.  This is where the real power is. There are hints of it all through the chapter, look at the beasts, they are “given” and “commanded”, even they are under God’s authority. It is the “winds of heaven” that stir up the sea (2). God is sovereign, he rules.

Even when cruel rulers oppose God and oppress his people God is sovereign, he sets the limits (25), he will have victory and he will judge and destroy the beasts (11-12).  It is the repeated lesson of the chapter, it is the big point. Why? Because it is what is repeated. Look at (17-18) which is a summary interpretation of the dream, the emphasis is on God and his people’s victory. This same message is repeated in (22, 26-7).
World history is the arena for a cosmic clash between two kingdoms, the Kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God, but the outcome is a foregone conclusion, and the victor is never in doubt. Do you see the encouragement as I view history? As we look at our lives, as we are tempted to feel overwhelmed? Not only does God warn us its coming he reminds us that he will triumph and we will share in his victory.

As we watch the news with all its corrupt, despotic, violent rulers and powers that oppress and persecute God’s people, as we read of Christians suffering and harassed, as we face ridicule, remember reality, remember your future. The futures bright the futures God’s victory.

3. See our Saviour

Then in (13-14) the image changes again and now Daniel sees another figure “before me was one like a Son of Man.” That literally means a “human being”, but actually this is a human being like no other.  What do you notice about this Son of Man?  He is led to God’s throne of judgement and he can stand, he is not destroyed or judged. (14) He is given authority, glory and sovereign power, in contrast to the beast’s limited temporary authority, this Son of Man shares the very authority of God.

He is worshipped in the very throne room of God by “all nations and peoples of every language”. Elsewhere in the Bible when a servant of God is worshipped they quickly redirect the worshipper to God, but not here. Here is someone who stands in the very presence of God and is rightly worshipped, who justly receives the worship due to God alone.  The Son of Man not only receives the worship due to God alone but he is spoken of in terms used of God. Look back at 6:26 and see the echo here in the words used of the Son of Man.

This is the perfect man who can stand before God, but more than that this is God made man come to bring God’s kingdom. The coming and victory of the kingdom is wrapped up in this figure.  (13) Where is the Son of man going? He comes into the throne room of God on the clouds. It seems to be an image of the ascension of Jesus.  Jesus is the Son of Man figure, worthy of worship because he is God come to earth to establish God’s kingdom before returning to his Father.

In Matthew 28:18 Jesus picks up this image; Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” I am the Son of Man he is saying and then what happens, Acts 1 tells us “After …this he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Where is he going? Into the throne room of God.

But as he goes he leaves his disciples a task again spoken in terms of Daniel 7 “go and make disciples of all nations…” They are to continue building the kingdom to gather all the nations to worship Jesus. And as they do so, as we continue doing so, as we engage in this cosmic battle we will face the opposition envisaged in this chapter

Jesus is the Son of Man, God made man who brings about God’s kingdom not through striving and battling for power but through his death. Who has returned to the Father and waits to return and bring the battle to an end.  Be encouraged victory is assured because it was won at the cross if you trust Jesus. We need to adjust our view of reality, to see with the Bibles realism, expect opposition, when oppression comes don’t feel God is not in control but know he remains sovereign.  Don’t be frightened, don’t focus on the beasts, focus on the Son, God has already won the victory and we will share in it by faith. This week when we are tempted to be overwhelmed remember God rules. The futures bright the futures God’s victory.

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