This evening we begin a new sermon series looking at the second half of the book of Daniel. About this time last year we studied chapters 1 to 6 and now over the next few weeks we are back for a look at chapters 7 to 12. My task this evening is to introduce the series, and in particular to concentrate on chapter 8, and chapters 10 to 12. In order to do so I have three main headings or sections this evening.
I am going to begin by talking about the content of the last six chapters of Daniel. Then I am going to try and highlight the message that God is communicating. And finally talk about how Daniel responded and how you and I ought to respond. The Content, The Message, The Response. So jumping straight in, let me begin with the content.
I would love to be able to work through these chapters slowly with you and explain what is going on, but that is simply not possible in an introductory sermon like this. So what I have done is to provide you with a structural outline of the content and also with some information on the background to Daniel.
If you could look down the page to the heading “Chapters 7 to 12” you will see that these chapters, which we are concentrating on this evening, can be divided into four main visions or units. Vision 1 is found in chapter 7, vision 2 in chapter 8, vision 3 in chapter 9, and vision 4 occupies chapters 10 to 12.
Let me try and give you a little taste of each of these visions. If you could turn please to Daniel chapter 7 – vision number 1. You will find that on page 892 in the Bibles in the pews. And it will be helpful if you can see a Bible this evening and can follow along. Chapter 7 starting at verse 1:
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. 2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. 4 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 man, and the heart of a man was given to it. 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!’ (Daniel 7:1-5)
And so the chapter continues. In verse 6 we are introduced to a beast “that looked like a leopard” and in verse 7 a “fourth beast—terrifying and frightening” with large iron teeth. Now on anybodies reckoning that is unusual language. It sounds more like a horror science fiction movie than a bit of the Bible. But that is the sort of imagery and language that we are dealing with in the second half of Daniel.
It is a style of writing and a method of communication described as apocalyptic. And there are a few bits of the Bible that follow this style. The book of Revelation is another example. Apocalyptic literature normally focuses on future events and tends to contain visions and dreams, heavenly messengers, strong images and contrasts, conflict between good and evil, symbolism and symbolic numbers.
It helps therefore to realise that the four beasts of vision 1 are symbolic. They stand for something else. They are supposed to be interpreted. If you look on down to verse 17 you can see that Daniel is given an interpretation of his dream. We read verse 17 that “The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (7:17).
If you have ever read any novels set during the Cold War you will have come across the symbolism of the Eagle and the Bear. America during that period of history came to be identified by an Eagle and Russia by a bear. In a similar way in Daniel’s vision animals are being used to represent powerful nations or empires.
From our standpoint in history it is relatively easy to look back in time and see how the events foretold in vision 1 have been at least partially fulfilled. The four great beasts of chapter 7 can be seen to represent the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire. I have put those names down for you on your sheet.
But it is important to recognise that Daniel is writing before the last three of those empires have even come into existence. He is recording prophetic visions given by God that foretell the future. It is also worth realising that the prophetic content of the second half of Daniel is still only partially fulfilled. The visions point even beyond historic events, to realities of our own time, and also speak of heavenly realities, and then ultimately the coming of God’s kingdom in all its fullness.
In chapter 8, Daniel has a second vision, vision 2. This time it is about a Ram and a Goat rather than four beasts. Have a look with me at the first few verses of chapter 8. Chapter 8 starting at verse 1:
8 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. 2 In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. 3 I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. 4. I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great. 5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at him in great rage. 7 I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against him; the goat knocked him to the ground and trampled on him, and none could rescue the ram from his power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:1-8)
As God reveals the events of history to Daniel the focus has now moved on to two of the four kingdoms of the previous chapter. This time however they are described as a ram and a goat. If you turn over the page and look at verse 20, you find that Daniel is again given an interpretation of the vision, and is told by the angel Gabriel, verse 20 to 22, that:
20 The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power (Daniel 8:20-22).
Again as we look back in history from our own stand point it becomes clear that the first king of Greece is Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great was a superb military figure who conquered a wide area very rapidly, but he died aged 32, amid rumours of being poisoned. His empire was divided among four of his general (the four horns of verses 8 and 22).
I am going to struggle with pronunciation, but the names of the four generals were something like Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Antigonid, and Attalid. The first two Ptolemaic and Seleucid are important because they form the main characters at the beginning of the fourth vision in chapters 10 to 12.
But before we get to the fourth vision of chapter 10, let me just mention chapter 9 and vision 3. In chapter 9 we find Daniel fasting and praying. He understands that according to the prophetic word of Jeremiah the time of exile in Babylon is drawing to an end. He humbles himself before God, confesses the sin of his people, and calls on God to restore the people of Israel and re-establish the temple in Jerusalem.
Then in the second part of chapter 9, the Lord God sends the angel Gabriel to Daniel in a vision, and tells him that the people will indeed return from exile in Babylon, but even after they return there will still be more trouble for God’s people.
Chapters 10 to 12 (vision 4), then take up the events that will occur after the return from exile. As we heard in our Old Testament reading early this evening, Daniel in chapter 10 receives an overwhelming vision of God and of the future of God’s people. His eyes are opened to the heavenly realities behind the earthly conflicts. Verses 13 of chapter 10, speaks of heavenly princes, and the spiritual forces. It is as if Daniel’s prayers have enabled him to engage with the spiritual realm in the battle that is taking place on earth.
But what is it that is happening on earth? Well chapter 11 takes us in some detail through the future events of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties, particularly as they affect Palestine, the land of Israel. Over a period of 150 years there was a long and drawn out contest for Palestine between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids – the kings of the South and the kings of the North. We read about that in verse 5 and following of chapter 11.
Eventually Antiochus Epiphanes appears on the scene, verse 21 of chapter 11. Antiochus Epiphanes was the last of the kings of the North. He was a powerful ruler, a master of intrigue and manipulation.
Look with me please at verse 21 and following of chapter 11. We are told that the preceding king . . .
21 . . . will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honour of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue. 22 Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed (Daniel 11:21-22).
Antiochus had a certain amount of success in battle but he never really triumphed over the king of the South or over the rising Roman Empire. In frustration he focussed his attentions on Jerusalem and vented “his fury against the holy covenant” (11:30) or God’s law. We read in verse 31 and 32, if you have a look, that:
31 His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him (Daniel 11:31-32).
Antiochus erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem in 167 B.C. and tried to arrange for sacrifices to be offered to it, rather than to God. It was an “abomination that causes desolation” to many of the Jewish people and resulted in the Maccabean uprising. It is the events of the life of Antiochus and his interaction with God’s people and the temple in Jerusalem that fill the remaining verses of chapter 11.
Yet the details of the second half of the chapter seem in some ways to point beyond Antiochus Epiphanes to the many other arrogant, power hungry, rulers who will follow him. It is empire after empire, dictator after dictator, superpower after superpower. Every state and nation (even in our day), every ruler or king who sets himself up against God, is anti-God and in fact anti-Christ, until finally the last antichrist will appear, will be defeated, and God will then sit in judgement.
It is the final end of time that is described in chapter 12. Let’s have a look just at the first four verses. Daniel chapter 12 verse 1:
12 At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge. (Daniel 12:1-4)
God tells Daniel in verse 2, about the very end of the world. He speaks of the resurrection of the dead and the final day of judgement. God declares that some will go “to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2).
So where does all this leave us? If that is the content of these chapters, what is the message? That is my second heading – The Message. What is God communicating to his people through these chapters?
God’s sovereignty is undeniable
Well perhaps the most important message of these chapters is the message of God’s sovereignty. God’s people are to be encouraged by the realisation that God is sovereign over the affairs of these nations. His sovereignty is undeniable. Even though the imagery is quite shocking and the coming events are perturbing, the message is that God is the one who is in control.
Throughout these chapters the language used emphasises God’s authority. It is he who raises up rulers (7:5), who tells the nations what to do (7:5), who gives authority to rule (7:6), who takes away power (7:26). And we are reminded in chapter 11 verse 35 that “the time of the end . . . will still come at the appointed time” (11:35), the time set by God. His sovereignty is undeniable.
If you go and look at a famous painting in an art gallery, perhaps Monet’s painting of the water-lily pond, it is possible to get sucked into the detail of the brush work, the individual splodges of colour. But what is needed is to be able to stand far enough back to appreciate the big picture.
As you read through chapters 7 to 12 of Daniel you could easily get distracted by the details of the beasts, or horns, or kings, or angels and miss the larger view and the most important message. God has given his people these prophetic revelations (in advance of the events) in order to reassure them that he is sovereign, that he is in control.
God’s people still face trouble
That is the first message – God’s sovereignty is undeniable. The second important message of these chapters is that God’s people still face trouble. God’s people still face trouble. You and I might be tempted to think that God is sovereign so everything will be OK. Perhaps the way a young child believes innocently that Mum or Dad is so strong that they will prevent anything bad happening.
God is strong and powerful enough to remove all evil, and prevent all trouble for his people, but that is not the message of these chapters of Daniel. If you read through these chapters in detail (and I would encourage you to do so), you will discover the message that God’s people will still face trouble. That was specifically true of Israel during the Greek Empire and the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, but it is true of God’s people at any time up until God’s final return.
Chapter 7 verse 25 speaks of the saints being handed over to a godless power for a time. In chapter 11 verse 33 we read how many of the wise “. . . will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered” (11:33). Such language and imagery is taken up again in the book of Revelation, and the message again is that God’s people still face trouble. There is a dark cloud gathering on the horizon.
God’s judgement will happen
Yet the fact that God’s people still face trouble can only be reconciled to God’s sovereignty when we are aware that God’s judgement will happen. That is the third important message of these chapters of Daniel – God’s judgement will happen.
In chapter 7 we are told that the Ancient of Days (the Lord God Almighty) will one day come and pronounce “judgement in favour of the saints” (7:22). In verse 10 of that chapter we read that “the court was seated, and the books were opened” (7:10). In other words there will be a day of judgement in which God will ultimately sort out the events of this world. Those who cause trouble for God’s people will be punished.
And even in the meantime God acts in this world in restrained judgement. We read in these chapters of evil rulers being “destroyed, but not by human power” (8:25). We are told specifically that Antiochus “will come to his end, and no one will help him” (11:45), that evil rulers will have their way, “but only for a time” (11:24).
The end of a calendar year and the start of another is often a time when accountants ask for a financial reckoning from their company. In business, people buy or sell, knowing that at some point there will be an accounting for the profit or loss. We are currently working on the finance figures here at JPC. But these chapters in Daniel remind us that there will be a final day of accounting for history.
World rulers (and in particular rulers today) often try to ignore the fact that there will be an accounting for how they have ruled the nations. And individuals at all levels often behave as if no one will challenge their behaviour. But these final chapters of Daniel communicate the message that there will be a final day of reckoning. God’s judgement will happen.
God’s kingdom will come
But perhaps the most encouraging news for God’s people, in the face of all the disturbing events being foretold in these chapters, is that God’s kingdom will come. That is the fourth main message of chapters 7 to 12. God’s kingdom will come.
Perhaps you could turn with me to chapter 7 for a moment and verse 18. We read verse 18 of chapter 7 that:
“the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever” (7:18).
And verse 27, if you have a look, we read there verse 27:
“Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His [in other words Christ’s] kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (7:27).
And then if you could turn with me to the beginning of chapter 12. Chapter 12 and verse 3, we read that:
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (12:3).
It is like moving out of a dark tunnel and into the bright sunshine – it takes a while for your eyes to become accustomed to the brightness, the contrast is so great. God’s kingdom awaits us, his kingdom will come.
But if that is the content and the message of these chapters what is the response. How did Daniel respond, how should you and I respond? That is my third and final section this evening – The Response.
Daniel felt troubled and ill
It doesn’t seem to have been a particularly pleasant experience for Daniel. We read in chapter 7 that he “was troubled in spirit” and “disturbed” (7:15). In chapter 8 that he “was terrified and fell prostrate” (8:17), in chapter 10 that he was “overcome with anguish” (10:16), his strength was gone and he could hardly breathe (10:17).
The events described in these chapters are shocking and disturbing, even for us reading them today. I remember for instance in my case reading the book of Revelation when I was quite young and being fairly upset by what I read. Apocalyptic literature is disturbing. It describes events that the reader has often not yet been through, that will be difficult, and does so using graphic imagery. Daniel was deeply troubled as he experienced these visions.
Daniel had learnt enough
And you might think that Daniel understood all of it. But that wasn’t the case. Have a look with me please at chapter 12 and verses 8 and 9. Daniel tells us verse 8 of chapter 12 that:
8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” 9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:8-9).
There was much that Daniel did not understand, but perhaps more importantly there was much that Daniel did not need to understand. Daniel had learnt enough, he was to go his way, he was not to keep pressing for details, verse 9. The details would fall into place as the events unfolded. There was a limit to how much Daniel needed to know.
And there is a limit to how much you and I need to know. We are not to get overly consumed with trying to pin down the details when reading Daniel or Revelation. Remember that Monet painting. We are to concentrate on the big picture rather than the individual brush strokes.
Daniel trusted God, got on with living, was wise and stood firm
But how do you and I do that? How is it that we can concentrate on the big picture, respond appropriately to the message of these chapters, and live out our lives in this world in light of them? Well we do so following Daniel’s example of trusting God, getting on with living, and being wise and standing firm. By trusting God, getting on with living, and by being wise and standing firm.
Let me just point you to a few verses as we finish. Please look with me at chapter 10 verse 18 and 19. Chapter 10 verses 18 and 19. Daniel writes:
18 Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19 “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” (10:19)
The visions are troubling but they are not meant to leave us in fear. Rather they are to be an encouragement. God’s intention is to strengthen us for what lies ahead. God is sovereign. And number one, like Daniel we are to trust God for the future.
Number two, you and I respond correctly to this message when we get on with living. Daniel in chapter 8 was exhausted by the vision and lay ill for several days, but then we read in verse 27 of chapter 8 that he “. . . got up and went about the king’s business” (8:27). In other words he got on with living. In a similar way you and I are to go back into our places of work, or study, get up and look after children, or whatever it is we do, and live for God in those situations. Having our eyes opened to the reality of God’s sovereignty and the events of the end, is not to distract us from earthly life.
And finally number three, like Daniel we respond correctly when we are wise and stand firm. In other words when we honour God and continue to stand firm for him in the world. In chapter 11 verses 32 and 33 we read that “. . . the people who know their God will firmly resist . . .” (11:32) the evil ruler, and that “those who are wise will instruct many . . .” (11:33).
Yes there will be conflict for God’s people. There will be much even in our society today that you and I have to stand up against. There will be many antichrists, and peoples organised in rebellion against God. But the correct response is to be wise and stand firm. We do so in God’s strength, knowing that God is sovereign, his judgement will happen, and that his kingdom will one day fully and finally come.