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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2017-04-02

Text: Daniel 7:1-28

Since the beginning of this year our morning sermons have been based on a study of the Book of Daniel. There are two things that make this book so valuable. Firstly, the life of Daniel and his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). These men provide fine examples of uncompromising loyalty to God in the midst of trial and persecution. We have already seen this in our study of the first 6 chapters of the book. I am sure that we have all gained many practical insights from these chapters on how to live as Christians in the midst of an ungodly world.

The other thing that makes this book so valuable for study is the numerous visions and dreams recorded in it. They provide the most comprehensive sweep of history and future events in the whole Bible and contain many prophecies about the End Times. There are two books of the Bible that should be studied well in order to have a good understanding of the End Times: One of them is the book of Revelation, and the other is the book of Daniel.

The last six chapters of Daniel record four visions that Daniel received: (1) The Four Beasts and the Son of Man – chapter 7, (553 BC); (2) The Ram and Goat – chapter 8, (551 BC); (3) The Seventy weeks of God’s calendar – chapter 9, (538 BC), and (4) The Events that will lead up to the End times – chapters 11 & 12, (536 BC). One exciting feature of these visions is that many prophetic details in them have been fulfilled with amazing precision! For instance, the year when Christ began His 3-year ministry in Israel during His first advent is foretold in Daniel chapter 9. Studying these visions of Daniel can therefore help to strengthen our confidence in God’s Word.

However, before we begin to study them we should first understand why these visions were given in the first place. Why did God provide the Jews of that particular time with such a comprehensive sweep of history and future events? The answer is found in the historical setting of Daniel’s time. Firstly, the Jews were then at a very low point in their history – they had lost everything! As a result of their own disobedience their once-glorious nation had been destroyed and they were now dwelling as captives in a foreign land. Three decades had already passed but they were still in Babylonian captivity.

In the midst of this terrible catastrophe it would be natural for them to feel downhearted and say, “Where is God in all this? What has become of all those great covenant promises that He made to us?” These visions would help the Jews to understand that God was still present with them, and that He would work out His grand purpose and plan for them and for the whole world. What they needed to do now was to persevere in faith. They must trust that God will surely fulfil every covenant promise He had made in His own good time.

And their trust in God was not in vain: Just before Daniel received his last vision, God’s promise to release them from their Captivity was finally fulfilled. As the Babylonian Empire fell and the Persian Empire arose, the decree of Cyrus gave the Jews the freedom to return home and rebuild their nation! But in their high feelings of euphoria many of them would now think, “How wonderful! The Lord has finally restored us. Everything will be absolutely bright and cheery for us from now on, and we will never ever be tried and persecuted again.” 

Well, the visions that God gave through Daniel were designed to manage expectations like these. The Jews needed to know that the end of their captivity was not the end of their sorrows. In fact they would face even greater catastrophes before the nation of Israel would finally enter into God’s rest. God wanted them to be prepared for the long haul – Yes, as God’s people they certainly had a very bright future ahead of them, but now they must persevere on faithfully, and wait patiently for it to come.

Today, we all need to know these visions of Daniel for the very same reason. As God’s people we are living here as pilgrims in a foreign land. We face intense pressures each day and challenges to our faith from an ungodly world. We see the world situation going from bad to worse. And sometimes we may feel downhearted and say, “Where is God in all this? What has become of all His great promises?” It is only when we turn to God’s Word that we realise that the Lord is still with us. We realise that He is actually working out His grand purpose and plan for us and for the whole world. We are encouraged whenever we hear reports that God’s kingdom is progressing, and that more and more people are being saved each day.

And this may then cause us to think, “Well, this is it! The Lord is evidently working now. And things will surely get better and better until He comes.” But the truth we will learn from Daniel’s visions is that things in this world are actually going to get a lot worse before they can get better. And so we must be spiritually strong to face the future. We must be prepared to persevere on faithfully, as we wait patiently for our Lord Jesus to come and for our blessed hope to be realised.

Now that we know the purpose for these visions, let us begin our study of the first one which is Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts. It was the year 553 BC when Daniel received this apocalyptic vision of the four beasts. This vision was really profound, rich in symbolic meaning, vivid and almost overpowering! Daniel describes what he saw in the first 14 verses. And then he receives the interpretation of his vision in the last 14 verses. There are three important truths that we can learn from this vision.

1. God’s Plan Is Unfolding in History

All history is actually HIS story. History teaches us about the rise and fall of various nations, the turbulent movements and migrations of populations, and the struggles between human forces for wealth, power and influence. All these are aptly portrayed in v.2 as “the four winds of the heaven [that] strove upon the great sea.” But in the midst of all this turmoil, God’s own story of redeeming a world of sin and establishing His reign over it, is unfolding little by little. This is an important truth that we must hold on to, especially in the uncertain times that we live in today.

God has even determined exactly how long each earthly kingdom can remain before another one replaces it. Here in Daniel’s vision four great empires of history are represented by four beasts. About 50 years earlier, King Nebuchadnezzar had received a vision where these same four empires were represented by the four parts of a great image. We had studied all this in chapter 2. The four great empires were represented by a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. The decreasing value of metals from gold to iron correspond well to the deterioration of the beasts: from a winged lion that becomes like a man, to a terrifying monster that spews out blasphemy.

In the interpretation given by Daniel, it was revealed that the head of gold represents the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, the first Gentile Empire must be the Babylonian Empire which is represented by a lion with wings in Daniel’s vision.

Perhaps these two parallel visions show how the empires of the world are perceived so differently by God and men. Men often like to think of their empires in terms of impressive statues made of precious metals. But God is not impressed at all. He sees all these empires as hostile brute beasts which must be tamed and brought under His control.

Thus, in the vision we see that the lion was subdued by having its wings plucked off (v.4) – This corresponds to Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-year insanity which we saw in chapter 4. And then as the lion was made to stand up like a man and was given a man’s heart, so Nebuchadnezzar was restored back to sanity and to the throne of Babylon as a spiritually enlightened king.

After the Babylonian Empire came the Medo-Persian Empire, which is represented by a bear in this vision. It corresponds to the chest and arms of silver in Daniel 2The bear was raised up on one side to show that of the two elements in this empire, one became dominant. This turned out to be the Persian element, which dominated over the Median element. Hence in latter years, it was known as the Persian Empire.

Bears are not as swift and ferocious as lions, but they are massive, especially when they stand up two meters tall on their hind legs. Likewise, the Medo-Persian Empire was a huge empire, much larger than its predecessor. What meaning is there in the three ribs in the bear’s mouth? Some think that the ribs represent the countries of Lydia (546 BC), Babylon (539 BC) and Egypt (525 BC), the three major powers that were conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel lived to see this empire coming on the scene of world history, but he did not live long enough to see the next one which was the Greek Empire.

In Daniel 2 it was represented by the brass belly and thighs of the great statue. Here it is represented by a four-headed leopard with four wings. These wings probably indicate its swiftness in conquest. Alexander the Great took only three years to subdue the whole Persian Empire, and then he proceeded to sweep eastwards toward India. The four heads of the leopard may represent the division of Alexander’s empire into four kingdoms after his death in 323 BC. These kingdoms were completely independent of each other, and yet they were so similar in their organisation, culture and the racial makeup of their leadership that they are pictured here as one kingdom.

Then comes the Roman Empire. In Daniel 2 we had seen it represented by the iron legs of the statue. But here it is represented by a beast which is not identified with any known animal. It was more terrifying than all the other beasts. This symbolises the crushing military power of the Romans. The Persian and Greek empires before it had made great conquests in their early years, but very few in later times. The Roman Empire alone carried on conquering and conquering for several centuries. Caesar and Pompey fought wars on two fronts of the empire at the same time, conquering North Africa, Britain, Southern Europe, and Egypt. The Roman Empire lasted for about a thousand years from the time the Roman republic was founded in 509 BC, and then it continued as the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire) for another thousand years. This is much longer than most empires in history!

Let us now summarise the lesson we should learn from the vision of these four beasts. They reveal how God has unfolded his plan in history. At the time when Daniel received this vision, only the first empire was known – the Babylonian Empire. The rest were still unknown to man. But God already knew all about the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires as if they had already come and gone from history.

And we can further extrapolate from this that God already knew about all the superpowers of our present world at that time and what will eventually become of each of them – because they have all been included within His plan to redeem this sinful world and to establish His reign over it! And here then is the comforting assurance that God wants us to have out of all this –He is in control of all that is happening in the world today! He decides what clout or influence each nation of the world receives and how long each of them is allowed to have it. And in His great wisdom, God may sometimes allow His people to be hindered, opposed and even persecuted by these nations. This brings us now to the second important truth that we can learn from Daniel’s vision.

2. God’s People Will Face Persecution in the Future

I had already mentioned this earlier – One of the purposes of Daniel’s four visions was to give warning that things are going to get a lot worse before they can get better. But how much worse will it be? Let us look at the description of the fourth beast again in v.7 to find out – “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.”

The ten horns mentioned here seem to represent a later stage of its power – something that will exist long after the end of the Roman Empire. This stage corresponds to the iron and clay feet of the image of Daniel 2. Many interpret these ten horns to represent a group of separate states or nations that come together make up a revived version of the Roman Empire, such as the European Union, or the United States of America.

As Daniel watched these ten horns, there came up from among them a Little Horn, as described in v.8 – “I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.” This little horn was something entirely new to Daniel, since there is no element in the image of Daniel 2 that corresponds to it.

And so Daniel now sought to find out more about this little horn. It clearly represents a very powerful person who will arise in the End times. Verses 21 reveals what he will do to God’s people – “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them…” Many understand this to be a prophecy about the end-time Antichrist. The Antichrist will somehow gain full authority over the world. He will then persecute all believers, and they will suffer tremendously under him. What Daniel saw in this vision about this end-time persecution of believers must have been really awful, since he said in v.15, “I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.”

And when he enquired further about the vision, this is what he was told concerning the little horn: “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.” (v.25) Following how the word ‘times’ was used in Daniel chapter 4, it is likely that ‘a time’ here refers to a year. Then the word ‘times’ may be understood as two years and ‘the dividing of a time’ may be understood as half a year. This adds up to exactly 3½ years.

I want you to watch how all these details match very closely with the description of the Antichrist given to John the Apostle over six centuries later – “…and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. [which is equal to 3½ years] And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” (Revelation 13:4-7)

Perhaps one question that is in your mind right now is, “Will we still be here when this end-time persecution of Christians takes place?” I think we all definitely hope and pray that Christ will spare us from it by catching us up to heaven in the Rapture before it happens. But the Bible is not clear on this and hence several different views on the timing of the Rapture have emerged. It is likely that the Rapture will take place only at the end of the Antichrist’s persecution of believers.  Besides, many Old Testament and New Testament saints who have lived long before us were not spared from persecution. Even at this present time there are Christians suffering persecution in other countries.

So, what should we do if it is God’s will for us to glorify him by going through persecution? Then we must resolve to go through it willingly and courageously by His grace, applying all those precious lessons that we have learned over the past three months from the book of Daniel. But here is the good news: If we ever have to go through such severe persecution, we can derive our greatest comfort from the next part of Daniel’s vision.

3. God’s Kingdom Will Prevail in the End.

 Daniel describes this in what he saw: “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.” (vv.9-11)

The first thing we notice here is that the setting has changed from the wild, tempestuous sea at the beginning, to the majestic orderliness of a heavenly court. Here God presides over a vast multitude of saints to pronounce His sentence of fiery judgment on the little horn and his wicked kingdom. The result of this judgment is the permanent and complete destruction of the Antichrist.

Daniel’s vision then ends on a glorious note: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (vv.13,14)

This part of the vision corresponds to the stone in Daniel chapter 2 which destroyed the image and became a great mountain which filled the whole earth. Here in this glorious scene of Daniel’s vision, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven to receive dominion and glory from God the Father. Who is this Son of Man? He is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus used this designation for Himself no less than 78 times. Unlike all the other kingdoms, His kingdom will have no end. Therefore the entire vision of Daniel chapter 7 can be summarised like this: “Kingdoms may rise and kingdoms may fall, the Kingdom of Christ will endure over all!”

Now that we understand this vision, we need to respond to it well. Firstly, let us ensure that we belong to the right kingdom. Dear friends, if you are still living for yourself and for the things of this world, you belong to the wrong kingdom! The only way to be saved and to live forever is to be in the kingdom of Christ. You must turn to Jesus Christ now, and ask Him sincerely to be your Lord and Saviour. Submit yourself fully to His authority right now and commit yourself to do His will. Then you will be ready when He comes to reign as King over this world.

Secondly, let us be conscious that we are living in momentous times. The stage for all the End-time events is already being set, and time is running out. The time has come for God’s people everywhere to rise up and be occupied with the work of the Gospel! It may not be long before the Antichrist will emerge on the world’s stage and subdue the whole world to worship him. It may not be long before Christ will descend for His final battle against all unsaved humanity. The door to enter into God’s kingdom may soon be shut for them. Can we just sit by and do nothing? No, we cannot. Let us do all that we can to warn them that the End is near. There is an unfinished task to accomplish, and we must not spare any effort to get it done.

And thirdly, let us not worry so much about all the changes that are taking place in the world today like the rising trend of populism and the Brexit process which began a few days ago. Dearly beloved, are you still fearful about terrorist attacks and the increasing threats of jihadists in Europe? I hope not. Do you still feel uneasy as you hear all the tense and hostile exchanges that have been taking place between various countries in recent months? I hope not.

We need not feel so uneasy, so fearful or worried as long as we remember these important truths that God has revealed to us today: God’s plan is unfolding in history; and though God’s people will face persecution in the future, we know for sure that God’s kingdom will prevail in the end. May the Lord use His Word to bless us our hearts now with His wonderful peace – the peace that passes all understanding.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25