By Simon ManchesterSunday 18 Aug 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Daniel – Seeing the Future
We’re working our way on these Sunday mornings through the Old Testament book of Daniel. I say this to you especially if you are a visitor today. There are 12 chapters in the book of Daniel,12 Sundays,and we’re in chapter 8. Our title is Seeing the Future. Of course God is the only one who can see the future,and He gives to Daniel in this chapter a look through the telescope of history in order to see what is coming and to equip him for what is coming. Now we all have experienced somebody equipping us for the future in general ways and we’ve done this perhaps for our children. We say to our children,’this is what to do on the first day you arrive at school.’ Or we say to somebody through the work context,’this is the way to speak during the interview process.’ Or we say to a friend,’This is what it is like to go through this particular surgery,this is what’s going to happen when you get to the hospital.’ Or maybe we simply say,’This is what to do if you want to get this particular train,or bus.’ We don’t exactly know what will happen in the details of the future but God does. You may remember that Jesus said to his disciples on one occasion,’I am going to ask you to go ahead and prepare the way for the entry into Jerusalem. And when you go to the next village you’ll see a colt tied,and when you untie it people will come over and they’ll say this to you,and you say this.’ And all the details came exactly as he said. Or when he was preparing the last supper he said,’when you go around the corner you’ll see a man carrying a water jar and I want you to follow him and he’ll lead you up some stairs to an upper room,and there will be the room for the last supper.’ So he knows the details of the future exactly,we of course do not.
Now Daniel 8 is a look down the telescope of history which helped Daniel,and it also has very great instructions for us even in the 21st century,very great principles. If you want to get a handle on the book of Daniel,and I love getting a handle on a book it helps me to get my bearings,I don’t get lost in the details,it seems to me that the first 6 chapters of Daniel are the historical proofs,you remember men in the furnace,Daniel in the lions den,historical proofs that God is dominant,that He is supreme,and that He is sovereign. That’s what those first 6 chapters teach us. The kingdom impacts everything. Now the second 6 chapters,which is where we are,are more to do with visions,or messages,of how to prepare for the future. You remember Jesus said on one occasion,’the majority of people around you are on a road and it’s an easy road,and it’s a broad road,and it’s a flexible road,and it seems the perfect road,but it goes to destruction.’ He said,’you must go off and go onto the narrow road.’ And he might have said and I’m the gate to the narrow road,and he might have said and I’m the road itself,and he might have said and I’m the destination at the end,but you need me for life. That’s the way Jesus equipped and prepared people for the future. So in Daniel you’ve got the historical proofs 1-6,you’ve got the visionary messages 7-12. Very similar to the way Jesus conducted his ministry: proofs,promises,proofs,promises.
Last week we saw the first of the visions from chapter 7. It was a very comforting vision. We saw that there was trouble in the world but God rules on His throne. This week we come to chapter 8 and we come to a vision which has to do with being a realist in the world. It’s a vision about being a realist. In fact Daniel is told you must prepare yourself for escalating opposition,escalating opposition. And in this bizarre vision God shows to Daniel the next two superpowers,and then a particularly nasty leader who will emerge and make things extremely difficult for the people of God. Well you can see in your bibles the chapter is divided into 2 parts,1-14 is the vision,15-27 is the interpretation. I want to spend a few minutes on the vision,a few minutes on the interpretation,and then a few minutes on the significance for us today.
First,the vision. Chapter 8 verse 1,’In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign,I,Daniel had a vision…In my vision,’ verse 2,’I saw myself in Susa; in the vision,’ verse 3,’there was a ram.’ And in the vision verse 5,’there was a goat.’ Now you need to remember that these are apocalyptic chapters in the bible,a little bit like the book of revelation. This is communication that is using more symbols than photos,and symbols can often be more evocative than photos. And this is the third year of Belshazzar the king of Babylon,and Daniel is an exile in Babylon and he has a vision which is that he is in the capital of Persia. So this is the third year,and the third year was a very interesting year because it is the year that the Medes and the Persians welded together,and they were on the threshold of being the takeover superpower. And it is interesting that Daniel has his vision of being in Persia because that’s the next superpower,so his vision moves him forward and out of the exile.
I know that not many of you here today have got room in your brain for ancient history this morning. I know that there are a huge number of things on your mind at the moment,an ancient history lesson is perhaps the last thing you enjoyed at school,and the last thing you want this morning but if you will stay with the details of this as if you were a parent talking to a child about the details of a bus a whole lot of things will fall into place which become extremely helpful. Well Daniel’s vision,and remember he didn’t ask for the vision,he didn’t understand it when it was over,was to see a ram with two horns charging to the west and the north and the south,and very successful as you see in verse 4,no animal could stand against him. And then suddenly in his vision he sees a goat move extremely quickly from the west,and this goat has one prominent horn,and it attacks the ram ferociously and tramples him,verse 7,and no one could save the ram. Now we don’t have to scratch our heads for too long because by the time you get to the end of the chapter verse 20 the interpreter says the ram is the kingdom of the Persians and the Medes. And the goat verse 21 is the kingdom of Greece,and so many of the details therefore make sense because now we see why the ram has two horns,Medes and Persians,and now we see why the goat has one prominent horn because the prominent horn is the first king of Greece,and the first king of Greece,the leading king as we know was Alexander the Great and Persia did expand west,north,south very successfully. And Greece did expand incredibly quickly and very powerfully. Alexander the Great as you probably know won most of his victories,most of his great victories even while he was in his twenties. But then verse 8 at the height of his power when Alexander was 33 he died. The horn was broken off.
Now there is no doubt that these visions which Daniel is seeing describe history using apocalyptic language,they describe what actually happened in the world. This is the textbook,but after Alexander we read in verse 8 when the horn,called Alexander,the horn the symbol of power,was broken off,four horns came in his place. And that’s true,four generals took over from Alexander and from one of those particular generals down the descendants track came a really sinister leader who is described in Daniel 8 as the small horn. And you can see the style of the small horn in verse 10,’It grew until it reached the hosts of the heavens,it threw down some of the starry hosts… trampled…set itself up to be great…took away the daily sacrifice and the place of the sanctuary… and truth was thrown to the ground.’ That’s the style of this little horn which would come down the historical track. Can you imagine the fright of this for Daniel? I don’t know what your dream was like last night if you can remember it,this was not exactly a dream but a vision,but can you imagine what it would be like to be given this kind of vision from God unmistakably clear,unmistakeably true? Imagine God communicating to you tonight that there are terrible prospects ahead for Christian people,for your children,that you have been through a fairly easy time but what is coming for your children is going to be a very difficult time.
I was reading this week that in Iran they’re considering the death penalty for anyone who leaves Islam. A judge has ruled in Egypt,one judge has ruled in Egypt,that it is only lawful now to convert to Islam. Now just imagine your children in this context. No wonder Daniel at the end of the chapter is exhausted,overwhelmed by the vision. And no wonder in verse 13 the question comes,’How long will this happen? How long will this take place?’ And you’ll notice the question is not how long will life be difficult,that’s a good question,but the question is verse 13,how long will the sanctuary,how long will the temple be out of action,because much more serious than suffering is that there would be no access to God,that there would be no temple sacrifices. We who trust in Jesus can easily forget the privilege of our access to God. We understand now thanks to Jesus that we don’t need a temple to find access to God,we don’t need ritual to find access to God,that when we cast ourselves on Jesus and his death for us that we find ourselves having now access like a child to a father. Well the answer comes back how long will our sacrifices be out of action verse 14,2,300 days. Incidentally that’s about six years and four months. Some commentators who like literal interpretation of biblical numbers say that this is the period from 171-165BC when the great Anticus Epiphanies the monster which is really the little horn of this passage persecuted the Jews. And that’s a very neat sort of six year period,but other commentators who see that numbers in the bible are usually symbolic say that the 2,300 is God’s way of saying it’s going to be lengthy,but it is going to be carefully measured,and it’s absolutely limited because it is all under the control of God.
Well that’s the vision. Second,the interpretation verses 15-27. What does Daniel do in the face of this vision verse 15,he watches and he struggles. And God makes provision by sending an interpreter,in fact an angel,in fact Gabriel,the very Gabriel who came at Christmas. And in verse 17 very importantly and verse 19 as well,Gabriel says this is a vision that concerns the time of the end. Well people get very excited about this,what does it mean,’this is the time of the end’,does it mean the end of the world? Is this describing the end of the world? And it is perfectly possible that what is being described here is the end of the suffering,the end of that particular suffering. But it is pretty certain as well that there are principles here in this passage which describe the end of history. You remember Jesus on one occasion said to the disciples sitting on the hill looking over the city of Jerusalem,he said,’I want to tell you about what is coming,’ and he said,’What’s coming down the track is that there are going to be armies that will circle Jerusalem. When you see the armies circle Jerusalem you know it is the end of Jerusalem – 70AD in came the armies. And then he said,’when it comes to the end of the world that’s going to be absolutely cosmic,planets will fall from the sky.’ And so short term,long term,he got the short term exactly right,he gets the long term exactly right.
And here in Daniel chapter 8 there is some immediate history and there is some ultimate history. In the immediate there’s going to be a stern faced king,this little horn. And this little horn is almost certainly,every commentator agrees,a leader who grew up Anticus Epiphanies IV, he was the monster,he was the Hitler of this particular period. In 167 he ordered the suspension of all the temple sacrifices,he ordered that as many of the scriptures as he could get his hands on be destroyed,he asked all Jewish ritual to be discontinued,he set up a new altar in the temple to Zeus and he sacrificed a pig on it,and he basically destroyed thousands of God’s people. That’s the immediate devastating history,but the principles of this passage especially verses 23-25 are timeless,and the principles are that there comes a time,in fact there comes a regular time,where there is someone who is a master of intrigue,verse 23,who causes,verse 24,devastation,who destroys God’s people,verse 24,who causes deceit,considers himself superior and takes his stand against the Prince of princes. Those types of activity never really leave the world. The principles of verses 23-25 surface again and again. They are the anti God,anti Christ principles,deceit,arrogance,attacks on God’s people,especially to be anti the Prince of peace. And so these verses are relevant you see to every generation because behind the political forces are spiritual forces and what we need to do,we need to wake up as God’s people regularly,we need to wake one another up and we need to ask the questions where are the principles of this chapter surfacing today? Where are the new ways in which spiritual opposition is showing itself,new ways,new days? Don’t miss in verses 24-25 that it is all by the power of God that it is permitted,and by the power of God that it is finished. God is in control. I wonder if you could follow what I have just said this morning. I’ve tried to put that as simply as I can. I know that there are some people who speak in a way that nobody understands and I am trying to speak in a way that everybody understands and what Daniel says is very simply here that he is given a vision of some history,some troubled history which is going to come,but it is timeless in it’s principle. And I want to close with some significant issues.
I mention three headings of issues. First,What is important? Here is a chapter in the bible it is not often preached on,it is not often read,it is not easy to follow,it’s unmistakably recording some history. Incidentally many scholars believe the book was written in the 6th century and sets out with complete accuracy the history that unfolded from Daniel’s time onwards. I incline to that view,nothing is easier for God than to tell the future. We read in Isaiah 46 ‘I am God. I am God and there is no one like me. I make known the end from the beginning.’ But other scholars think that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC especially to encourage people going through the difficult days of Anticus Epiphanies IV by recording stories of what God did back in the 6th century BC. And both views have got their strengths and their weaknesses and I don’t want to particularly come down and die on any hill on this issue. I am inclined of the view that it is of the 6th century but some people take the view that it is from the 2nd century,but here’s the important thing the secular historians will make a very big thing of Alexander the Great.
There are volumes written about Alexander the great,very little written about Anticus Epiphanies IV,but our chapter is going to make a big thing about this opponent of God’s people,and a very little thing in fact not even mentioned really,of Alexander the Great. Secular history is interested in the history of the world,biblical history is rightly interested in the history of God’s people. God is more interested in you than He is in the headlines. You may be interested in the headlines,He is interested in you. You may be interested in what is happening in the American elections,God is interested in what is happening in your head and your heart. I mean He is interested in the elections of course but He makes a very big thing you see of His people because His people that’s His agenda. And although God is sovereign over every detail in all the newspapers,His interest,His plans,His future are bound up with His people. So think of the New Testament Rome is mentioned once or twice but Bethlehem and Nazareth are absolutely crucial places. Caesar,Herod,mentioned,Peter and Paul fishermen and Jewish scholar are absolutely crucial to God’s purposes. So Christians must learn to sift from the millions of words that are coming at us all the time and the millions of pictures that are coming at us all the time,what is important. And your genius your skill your wisdom is going to be sifting what the world tells you is important and what God Himself tells you is important.
I was interested to hear Mark Dever recently say,he is the pastor of Castle Hill Baptist Church,he said that a guy came to the church and he was transformed by his visit to the church and it wasn’t the sermon that did it,and it wasn’t the service that did it,it was the coffee. It was the time of coffee because he said he stood around having coffee with the people of God and it was the time of the Clinton Lewinsky disaster,and nobody at the church,although the whole of the world was talking about the Clinton Lewinsky disaster,nobody over coffee was talking about it. Everybody was talking about things to do with the kingdom. That absolutely rocked him. Remember when David Cook came and spoke at our men’s breakfast some months ago,he’s the principal of SMBC,and he said as he was speaking to the men,he said you must grab your opportunity to talk to one another about how your walk with Christ is going,and how it is with your soul. We don’t get these opportunities. If the people of God meet and talk about just the agenda of the world it is a missed opportunity. So be brave,ask one another,”How’s your walk with Christ? How’s your soul?” What is important?
Second question,What is happening? Daniel sees that there are tough times coming but he also sees in those principles of verse 23,25 deceit,arrogance,opposition,what one commentator has called the transcendent dimension of the conflict. The transcendent dimension of the conflict. In other words,yes,Anticus is coming,yes,he is a monster,but I want you to watch the real spiritual battle. For some people the spiritual battle surfaces physically. Right now,even as we sit here today it is illegal,it is officially illegal to be a Christian in North Korea. In Nigeria in recent weeks and months in the state of Baci every single church building has been either destroyed or seriously vandalised,physical opposition. For others the persecution is religious. In Canada,in parts of Canada right now,a country very like our own,sophisticated,pastors as you know are being interrogated for hours under threat of losing their licence,and their property,and their ministry at least their official ministry,because they are taking the bible seriously,at this very time. Now do you think that if there is a spiritual battle that surfaces against the people of God,do you think that we will in Australia,in Sydney,be completely free of it? Do you think that is all happening somewhere else? Do you think the spiritual battle is not happening here? Do you think the devil looks at Sydney,and Sydney Anglicans,and says they’re just too strong for me? They’re just too firm,they’re too faithful,they’re too clear,they’re too sensible,they’re too gifted,they’re too Godly,we can’t do a thing? Well you would have to be a fool to think like that wouldn’t you. I am absolutely sure that the same spiritual battle is operating in our own hearts,in our own souls,in our own city,in our own churches today,not in the area of the fires of persecution but in the freezing of the heart. I am absolutely sure that what Jesus said in Matthew 24 that in the last days most men’s love will grow cold is happening. I feel the coldening,the freezing,in my own soul,I feel it in the fellowship. There is a spiritual battle you see,it is almost as if the devil says we don’t need to send physical persecution,we don’t need to send religious persecution,there is enough materialism and pleasure and spending on self and indulging which is going on to basically enough to rob the best hearts of any real kingdom interest,everybody is preoccupied with this world. And that’s why we really do need don’t we to stir one another to pray,and to stir one another to think again,and to stir one another to ask Gods help to escape the freeze which is on us. I was very struck reading John Frame’s book which we are looking at for our little Equip next Saturday,and he has a phrase in it under the chapter on the Holy Spirit and he says this,”if Jesus needed the Spirits ministry,we certainly need the Spirit’s ministry.”
And that brings me to my third and last thing today which is What is needed? What is important? Secondly,What is happening? And What is needed,we need to ask God’s help. We need to seek verse 25 the power which is beyond our own. We need to ask God to help us,especially turn this to prayer if you feel yourself growing careless,if you feel yourself more inclined to sin than ever,if you feel yourself in some kind of spiritual paralysis,there are people in this church who have been going for years to this church and in the last months they have stopped believing. We need to pray,but don’t miss a magnificent thing,and I want to finish with this. Don’t miss a magnificent thing which is in Daniel 8 and is also in Luke chapter 1 and that is the ministry or the errands that are run by Gabriel. You know Gabriel pops up twice in the Bible you know Gabriel runs two known errands in the bible,one is in Daniel 8 and one is in Luke chapter 1. What is his errand in Daniel chapter 8? His errand is to tell of coming destruction. What is his errand in Luke chapter 1? It is to tell of coming salvation. How does Gabriel describe the coming destruction in Daniel chapter 8,he describes it supremely as a horn,a horn of destruction. How does Luke chapter 1 describe the saviour? Luke chapter 1 describes the saviour I think it is Luke chapter 1 verse 68 or 69,as the horn of salvation. Isn’t that wonderful? Gabriel gets to announce 2 horns,the horn of destruction and he will be destroyed,the horn of salvation and he will never be destroyed. What a privilege then to belong to the horn of salvation,what a privilege to belong to the Lord Jesus. No wonder Zechariah in his song goes on to say,to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him. Well in the last verse of Daniel chapter 8 Daniel resolves knowing that God is king that he will safely go about the kings business. I am pretty sure it means the king of the pagan world who he is serving but ultimately of course he is serving the king of kings. And I want to suggest to you that in the face of the battle and the trouble and the difficulties,you with great confidence continue to go about the kings business,not everyone will thank you but that is the way to go. Let’s pray.
Our heavenly Father we thank you for giving this chapter in your word to set the scene not only for Daniel in his time but for us in our time of opposition,and yet salvation,a horn of destruction and yet a horn of salvation and we ask that you would help us like Daniel to acknowledge you not only with our head but with our heart and to serve you faithfully,responsibly and we pray that you would help us as your people in your world to be guarded in heart by you and that the overflow of our heart would be that our thinking and our living and our speaking would credit you with being very great and very gracious. Help us to be people of light in a dark world. We ask in Jesus’ name,Amen.