Man or Beast?
We live in an upside-down, messed up, world full of terrible things. We could cite a dozen headlines from the last week alone to show that.
The ABC: abortion vs flamingo
What can do? How should we respond? We could despair and panic. We could put all our hope in the next political movement that agrees with us. Or we could just capitulate and join in with the world and its values. Or we could listen to God and trust his King.
Understanding Daniel 7 correctly will help us to do the latter.
There are things here that speak about the world – in a global sense. And there are things here which speak about your world, your life with its difficulties and disappointments.
The kingdoms of this world are destructive
As Daniel’s vision opens here, he sees a churning sea … and out of this sea arise four quite different beasts.There is a picture for us of this upside-down world of ours. A world of seething millions where there are wars and natural disasters and hatreds and murders and empire building and where people die violently by the thousand every hour.
Out of this seething mass arise four kings, or four kingdoms. That’s what the four beasts represent, according to the interpretation given to Daniel in v17. These four kingdoms come in the form of a lion, which has the mind of a man; then of a bear; the third is like a leopard, which has four heads; and the fourth and last beast is too awful for description. It is ruthless and destructive, with no thought at all for people. Some will say that each beast represents a specific kingdom, and that as the first gives way to the second, then to the third, then finally the fourth strides the stage of human history, you have a comprehensive summary of what will take place between Daniel’s time and the end of the world.
People who take that view say that the lion is Babylon; the bear is Persia; the leopard is Greece; and then the final destructive beast is Rome. There may be some parallels there, but I don’t think Daniel is taking us from 500BC only to say 400AD. In fact, the fourth beast is still around at the end of the world according to the vision.
When you look at these four beasts, Daniel is speaking of the kinds of kingdoms which arise at any stage of human history. He is spelling out principles that are true for every century, not just the first or the 21st. The principle is, the further a society moves away from the true and living God, the more destructive it becomes. At the heart of humanity is a ferocious anti-God movement.
Sure, there’s progression, or really regression, as it moves from a beast with some human characteristics to beast only.
Culture may last for a while (the beast with human traits),but sooner or later its true colours come through as culture gives way to base tyranny, or anarchy, or the most awful kind of oppression where no values seem to be left at all – and life is cheap.
It’s the story of the Bible. It’s the story of history.
Sometimes it shows in very obvious ways. Sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s easy to look at these beasts and immediately think of groups like ISIS. 80,000 abortions this year in Australia alone. How can we say there’s nothing like the fourth beast in our culture today? We want to muck around with God’s definition of marriage, what’s the harm? No-one’s being hurt, it’s not like anything harmful will come from it. Sin always destroys. Always.
The further we move away from God the more destructive we become. Ultimately the destruction is the kingdoms of this world are leading people away from Jesus and therefore to eternal destruction.
A kingdom that does not have Jesus at the centre, a kingdom whose mission is something other than knowing and showing the glory of Jesus is, at the end of the day, always destructive.
What else would you expect when the rulers of our world are likened to beasts?
Those who lead this world are not men as God made man to be. They do not reflect the character of God, but instead are after their own welfare, are not interested in the poor or the downtrodden or people who have no voice. Why? It is because they’re just like us.
They, and us, are all less than God made man to be.
We need to see that very clearly. No organisation or political party or movement or outspoken advocate can bring salvation for the world or for Australia. No plans for social change or economic reform or border security or law and order will save Australia. So why do we act as though they will? Why do we speak with those on the other side as if our side will solve all the problems?
It is because we forget they’re all beasts – some with more human aspects than others mind you – but in the end all beasts who have come to devour and spoil.
You may think that this is a terribly cynical view that I’m suggesting there is no point working with a political party, or voting with intelligence and integrity. Not at all – the example of Daniel himself, who worked so hard in the government of Babylon itself should warn us against being passive. What I am saying is how foolish would it be to stake your future on the reputation or work or insight or plans of someone who is, when you boil it down, a beast? Not able to rule as a man – as God made man to rule this world of his. How foolish would it be to get comfortable with this world? It's easy to get comfortable with the world. But when you see it for what it is – beastly – suddenly it’s not so appealing.
The kingdoms of this world will be destroyed
At this point, Nebuchadnezzar, the great Nebuchadnezzar had come … and he had gone. Sure, other kings and kingdoms come after him. But their fate is exactly the same.
Even the great fourth beast, in v11, while he was still tooting his own trumpet, was snuffed out in half a verse. And as for the rest of the beasts, v12, their dominion was taken away.
God is saying to us, “Look at history. Look at these great claims that people made.” Nebuchadnezzar called himself the king of kings and the lord of lords. And now where is he? Look at the kingdom of man. There’s just not much to it. It doesn’t endure. It doesn’t have real beauty. It’s not permanent. It comes and it goes.
We’ve got another 2,500 years on Daniel. Look back. Learn the lessons from history. They came and they went. Even the great ones. Sure they might get a mention in a history book or an internet page, but also in the article will be the date they finish. Jeremiah had already said that Babylon, even the great Babylon, would be reduced to a pile of rubble.
The kingdom in which we live now, the kingdom of man is not going to last. It doesn’t have ultimate truth. It doesn’t have ultimate value. That’s why when it comes to deciding things, we don’t let people from the kingdom of man decide upon things which God has spoken about. So when it comes to matters of life and death, or marriage, or moral principles, or what’s really going to be good for us, the people of these ferocious and fleeting kingdoms are never going to work it out.
God’s kingdom reigns
Why is it that the kingdoms of this world come and go? Is it just bad luck – perhaps the next one will do better and it will last?
Daniel, by means of his vision, wants us to look beyond the news headlines, look beyond what the naked eye can see in this world, look beyond the turbulent sea of international politics and rivalries, look beyond all that to:
The throne of v9.
As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
What stands behind the scenes? Take a look beyond Trump or Putin or the Chinese government, each trying to bring about their plans and schemes. What do you see? It is the Living God, the eternal God, sitting on his throne in heaven. What’s he doing sitting on his throne? He’s running the show.
I hope you noticed that as we read the chapter, it’s God who rules the beasts. He gives them their power. And he limits the time they exercise their power.
In v2 it’s the winds of heaven that stir up the sea in the first place.
At the end of v4 about the first beast, the mind of man was given to it. By who?
Or the end of v5 the second beast was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ By who?
Or the end of v6 the third beast, dominion was given to it. By who?
Or v12, their dominion was taken away. By who?
By the Ancient of Days, that’s who. This Ancient of Days might well say to Kim Jong or IS or whoever, “Where were you when I laid this earth? Where were you when I put the stars in place? Where were you when I created man and woman? “Well then, who do you think you are, riding across this earth as if it belonged to you, and there is no one to stop you doing what you want? Who do you think you are when I am the Ancient of Days enthroned in heaven?”
To the human eye, the international scene is a mess. Don’t you think? What will save you from despairing about it and resigning from the human race?
The fact that God is still on his throne. The fact the he reigns in great majesty … with a throne flaming with fire and blazing wheels, and a stream of fire flowing from him. Who in this little world will withstand a God like that?
I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I thought our destiny lied in the cumulative wisdom of the UN or Canberra or the Whitehouse or … the elders of Trinity. What we see here is that contrary to appearances, that in the midst of these indescribable realities, God is on the throne, God is sovereign and the future (as well as the present) is securely in his hands.
You say, “Well that’s what the first six chapters were about.”
Exactly. And the second six are about the same thing.
It is impossible to truly understand history without understanding biblical history, without reading your Bible.
Look now at what God does with his sovereignty. What does he do, the end of v10? He opens the books. This is not to form a reading club. This is saying a day of justice is coming. All the evil deeds done by men are in the book. The corrupt dealings and the cruel tortures of world rulers – all recorded. And judgment is coming.
There is some justice throughout history, isn’t there, as one nation deals with another and overcomes it, therefore acting as an agent of God in judgment. But there’s got to be more doesn’t there? We know that there does. In our hearts, we long for things to be put right – for the evil man who has always gotten away with it because he appeared to others as Mr. nice guy, as much for the downright evil despot ruler who has simply destroyed all in service of his own desire.
A day is coming when they will be put right. All those deeds in God’s book. Not one forgotten. How will you go when you sit this test? This world’s rulers will be there and you and I will be there as well. Unless the evil deeds we have done have been dealt with by Jesus, their fate will be our fate – as the beast is killed and its body destroyed (v11). There will be eternal destruction for us – unless we belong to the King of God’s Kingdom. It is to him that the vision turns.
God’s King is great
We have seen beasts who pass as men – great men in this world of ours, but who are no real rulers. Then, in v13 in Daniel’s vision, comes a man. Really more than a man, but at least a man. He is the ruler of a kingdom which has nothing in common with those other kingdoms. They were incomplete poor kingdoms of this world, ruled over by beasts,but here is a kingdom where man rules. Man as God made man to be. Clearly a kingdom which is not of this world.
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
Who’s that? Who’s the Son of Man who comes with the clouds of heaven? Jesus, of course is it. How many times does Jesus take that title “Son of Man” for himself? Many, many times in the gospels Jesus is quite consciously saying to his hearers, and to us, “I am the man of Daniel 7. Go read that chapter and see what kind of king I am.” Where’s he going? Where is he coming to?
And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
When Jesus told people he would come with the clouds of heaven he was not talking about his second coming. The clouds are not taking him to earth but from earth, to be presented to the Ancient of Days. This is not a slipping-in-through-the-back-gate. It’s a coronation. There is singing and great rejoicing, presumably with the countless thousands from v10. Jesus takes his seat at the right hand of the Father, and is given authority over everything.
Why? What has he done to warrant that? What great thing has he done to entitle him to be given the authority to rule every creature on earth, in a kingdom that shall not pass away, which will stand alone when all the kingdoms of the beasts will be reduced to nothing? He has conquered the beast. He has gone to earth in obedience to his Father’s will and done battle with Satan at the cross, and he won.
Col 2:15, at the crossHe disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.
What a fitting victory procession this is. This Jesus, who was condemned as a fraud and a threat by those puny little men in their human, now rides triumphantly on the clouds of heaven into the court of the true King. He is now vindicated and declared to be the true King.
Miserable beasts had written him off, but the Father welcomes him, and declares his glory to all. What a glorious sight that must have been, as Jesus came on the clouds of heaven to heaven itself. Well, good for him, but what does this mean for us who are still living in this world where nations come and nations go, where Christians are welcomed one day and despised the next?
Look at v18, the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.
Hang on, wasn’t the kingdom just given to the Son of Man? How can it now be given to the saints, God’s people? Who really has it? The answer is both. What is given to the head is given to the body. What belongs to the vine, belongs to the branches. What Jesus obtains, his people obtain. As our head, the one who represents us, he gets and gives every blessing we need.
What kind of kingdom is this which he wins and then shares?
V14, his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Can you be lost from the family of God once you are made a member of the kingdom of God? Can your trials or your inconsistencies or the subtle attacks from Satan or opposition from those around you take you away from your position in this kingdom? His kingdom is your kingdom. While he stands, you stand. While he is accepted, you are accepted and nothing in this often dark and uncertain world can undo it.
Daniel sees here similar things to what John sees in the book of Revelation, the pulling back of the curtain on history and seeing God’s great victory and God’s great king. So why is Daniel so anxious and alarmed in verses 15 and 28, if this is so positive and encouraging?
Daniel knows that this great victory means he doesn’t need to panic, but it doesn’t mean there’ll be no pain. Daniel is not so foolish as to rejoice in the certainty of the Son of Man’s victory to such an extent that he does not also see the great danger that the beast is. He sees that this defeated beast is going to wage war with the saints (v21) and prevail over them.
He shall speak words against the Most High (v25), and shall wear out the saints of the Most High.
These defeated forces will still be active. Without any shadow of doubt, Satan has been disarmed and triumphed over at the cross – Christ’s ascension to heaven and coronation back there in 30AD bear witness to that.
It is this same defeated enemy that still prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). And there is still a fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
Satan’s power is broken – but that power is still real, and we see him in his death throes, determined to damage the cause of Christ, and to take as many as possible with him into the fires of hell.
Even this is still according to the sovereign timing of God. Until the time when the saints possess the kingdom (v22), and when the time allotted to the beast is up (v25). God is saying to us here, in what so often appears to be a messed up world, “See the scene behind what is seen. The majestic Judge and reigning King have mortgaged none of their sovereignty over history or its beasts.”
Seeing this secret behind history may not keep you from pain, but it should keep you from panic.
It’s a bit like in WWII. The Germans were quite confident of the unbreakability of their Enigma code ,but British mathematicians cracked it with their own Ultra system. Then they had to keep secret about how they knew German secrets. Just because the British had Ultra, that didn’t mean they could forget about the war. It had to be a real morale booster for England’s leadership that they could know what was going to happen ahead of time.
That’s the effect these verses should have on the children of God.
Charles Spurgeon used to say that he read the newspaper to “see what God has been doing today”.
Why could he say that? Because God was still on the throne. The kingdom of heaven belonged to Christ and he was working all things according to the pleasure of his will. And Satan, active though defeated, was serving the purpose of the Living God, no more and no less.
If you belong to this Son of Man, you are as secure as he is secure. His eternal kingdom which shall not be shaken is yours. Kings will come and kings will go … the world is full of great pretenders who are really only beasts.
God remains enthroned, and his Son is the King that every man, woman, boy, girl everywhere will one day bow before and praise as the only true and good king.
As you gave Daniel a vision, we ask that you give us a vision