“Will World War 3, End of Days Begin in Syria?” asks the International Business Times. “Syrians face ‘Armageddon’ without military action, says David Cameron” in the House of Commons Wednesday. “Syria: Armageddon is on the agenda – again” was the headline in the Guardian.
In the House of Commons, Sir Peter Tapsell apparently asked the Prime Minister, “”If the Americans illegally bombard the Assad forces, and Assad legally invites the Russians in to degrade the rebels, what will NATO do?” If that was understated, I’d hate to hear the full-blown version. It was frightening” writes Simon Hoggart in the Guardian, “…when Sir Peter tells you Armageddon is nigh, it makes the Book of Revelation look like Your Stars with Russell Grant.” “Ready for war? Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin set to lock horns over Syria at G20 summit” was the headline in the Independent on Thursday. “World’s two most powerful men set to face-off over military action in Syria” “Mr Putin warned that Russia would consider any strikes ordered without United Nations backing as an act of “aggression””. And not be outdone Press TV’s headline was , “Iran will support Syria “until the end”
“Any US attack on Syria to engulf the entire Middle East” warns Ayatollah Rafsanjani. Providentially today we have come to the Prophecy of Daniel in our series Christ in all the Scriptures. Embedded in this ancient text is a message of hope about the future. Daniel insists, nothing happens by accident. The world is not out of control. God is in charge and to encourage us to trust him, in Daniel, God has forewarned us of what would happen in history. All we have to do is unlock the apocalypse code hidden in the symbolism of the text to discern the signs of the times.
We are indeed living in the Last Days. Please turn with me to Daniel 7 and let’s note three clues that will help us identify whether this passage is talking about the present day.
- “As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them.” (Daniel 7:21). We are dealing with a time of great persecution of Christians.
- “The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom” (Daniel 7:24).
- “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.” … “but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” (Daniel 8:17, 26). So these visions in Daniel are referring to events close to the end of time.
Are you beginning to see? Read with me Daniel 7:3-7
“Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. “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. “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!’ “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.”(Daniel 7:3-7)
Daniel mentions four animals symbolising four empires.
Lets see if we can identify them. If we start with the last – the ten kingdoms have not yet emerged. Some speculate that this may describe a super confederation of the United States of Europe. If the fourth beast will rise in the near future we can perhaps make sense of the other three. Which nation has the lion as its symbol? Britain. At the beginning of the 20th century Britain had the largest empire in the world. One quarter of the world’s population and one fifth of the world’s land mass was part of the British Empire.
What about the eagle wings? Since the Second World War, the United States has taken over the role of Britain as the world’s only super power but is already in decline. So the first beast represents the British and American empires. What about the bear? Which nation is symbolised by a bear? Russia of course. For nearly 70 years the Soviet Empire, aided by China dominated the world. I can see you are getting into this now. So what about the Leopard with four bird’s wings and four heads? Did you know that the UN and G8 has divided the world into four sectors – the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa – which will ultimately be ruled by four heads who will answer to the UN Security Council led by the Secretary General. Tony Blair said recently:
“We should strengthen the UN Secretary General’s powers to propose action to the Security Council for the resolution of long-standing disputes and encourage him to do so. Our values are our guide. To make it so, however, we have to be prepared to think sooner and act quicker in defence of those values – progressive pre-emption, if you will. There is an agenda… capable of uniting a world once divided. There wouldn’t be a better moment for it.”
And fuelling speculation, The Daily Telegraph reported, “Tony Blair is keeping open the option of a move to New York with his wife Cherie for a top job at a revamped United Nations… Government sources have indicated.”
So there you have it – if Tony Blair becomes the next UN Secretary General, (or gets a job behind the scenes) we are assured stronger powers for the UN, the use of pre-emptive force against countries defying UN resolutions and a more united world. OK – I need to make an apology. I have been leading you astray. I suspect some of you have began to feel the addictive power of interpreting contemporary events in the light of Scripture. So how should we interpret passages such as Daniel 7? With a health warning. Historically, apocalyptic literature arose between the time of the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel and Daniel) through the return of the exiles (Zechariah) to the Greek and then Roman occupation of Palestine (Revelation). The time between around 580 BC and 100 AD was one of great ferment and anxiety for God’s people. The apocalyptic writings describe the rise and fall of empires as well as rulers who tolerated or persecuted God’s people.
At the same time they portray ‘history’ between the now and the not yet – between the present and God’s future intervention to rescue and vindicate his people. This is the period known as the ‘End-Times’ or ‘Last Days’.
We must recognise however that these terms have been used for rather a long while.
Quoting Isaiah 44:3, for example, Peter describes the events of the Day of Pentecost as the fulfilment of these ‘Last Days’ (Acts 2:16-17. See also Hebrews 1:2). We must therefore not be naïve in thinking the End Times began in the 20th Century. While apocalyptic literature is like an animated picture book, full of detail, movement and action, it is not a puzzle book intended to confuse. That is why it is important to focus on the broad themes and not get hung up on the detail. And the dominant theme of Daniel is not speculation about the future but about Jesus.
The Fourth Man
We meet him first in Daniel 3. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have refused to worship King Nebuchadnezzar and have been threatened with death in a firey furnace.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him,
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up…” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar has them thrown into a blazing furnace.
But while his soldiers are killed because of the heat, the three men are unharmed just as God promised (Isaiah 43:2)
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Here is the first sight of the Lord Jesus in this book; and He is still with His own when they pass through the fire, as many a saint has proved since then. The only effect of the fire was to burn were the ropes that bound them. Yes, the Lord Jesus was the fourth man.
The Son of Man
Daniel 7 divides into two. Daniel describes his dream (Daniel 7:1-14) and then gives the interpretation (Daniel 7:15-28). The troubled waters of the sea are used in Scripture to describe the nations of the world in turmoil.
The world then, as now, is changing fast. It can feel like things are out of control. God gave Daniel’s this dream to provide hope for his generation and ours. Daniel’s vision, although disturbing, was a hopeful one because our God is a God of hope. God gives Daniel a vision of the future,
a vision of the coming of the Lord Jesus and of the end of time. We can break the passage into four:
- The power of earthly rulers is temporary (7:1-1-8)
- God is sovereign and will judge the world (7:9-12)
- Jesus will reign over the world for ever (7:13-14)
- His saints will reign with Him in glory (7:25-28)
1. The power of earthly rulers is temporary
“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.” (Daniel 7:2-3)
Out of the churning sea emerge four beasts one after the other. They represent four great kingdoms.
The winged lion has been found in excavations in ancient Babylon, symbolising Nebuchadnezzar’s might and the rapidity of his conquests. When Daniel spoke his kingdom, had already been overtaken by its successor,
This was a formidable beast, strong, cruel and cunning. It is a fitting symbol of the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel describes the bear with three ribs between its teeth. These depict the Persian empire cruelly feeding on the nations it had defeated.
This was most likely the Greek Empire. Alexander the Great, its founder, extended its territory rapidly, reaching as far as India in his conquests. The leopard had four heads, and this could refer to the division of the kingdom when Alexander died young and generals divided the empire into quarters. But there was still worse to come.
The Fourth Beast
It was not given a name, only a description – terrifying and frightening and very powerful, with large iron teeth. The behaviour of this beast became so cruel and savage that it could not be compared with any known animal. Here was a formidable and frightening creature, truly appalling in its tremendous power. With its great iron teeth it devoured and broke in pieces its victims, crushing under foot whatever was left. This is most likely a depiction of the Roman Empire. Frankly it doesn’t matter. The detail of the vision, while it is tempting to speculate, is not as important as the broad truths the vision contains. So what is the application? Kings and Presidents, Emperors and Prime Ministers come and go. They may be powerful. Their boundaries may be extensive. But none of them lasted. We learn not to look to governments, even powerful democratic governments,
for our security or as a substitute for almighty God.
Because the power of earthly rulers is temporary.
2. God is sovereign and will judge the world
“As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire.” (Daniel 7:9-11)
The days of evil are numbered. You can count on it. God is going to take care of the evil one. Let me direct your attention to verse 26 where it says, “The court shall convene, and they shall take away his dominion, consume it and destroy it forever.” That’s a promise. God will destroy evil, your role is to live defiantly, live dangerously, living purposefully. Knowing one day God is going to remove evil. The power of earthly rulers is temporary. God is sovereign and will judge the world.
3. Jesus will reign over the world forever
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
This is a very significant passage. It is the first occasion in the Bible that we are introduced to Jesus as the “Son of Man”. It was Jesus’ favourite way of describing himself.
King David had the same vision. Psalm 110 begins,
“The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)
In Mark 12, Jesus silenced his critics,
“While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Mark 12:35-37)
He applies the prophecy of Daniel about the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven as a proof of His deity.
To his disciples, Jesus promised,
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)
And to his enemies Jesus made the same promise,
“The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” (Matthew 26:63-66)
What do you think? What is the significance of Jesus appropriating Daniel’s title “Son of Man”? He became a man in order to be our representative before the Father. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12). That’s security! We can approach the Ancient of Days in confidence because of the work of the Son of Man on our behalf.
But Jesus will do even more.
As the Son of Man Jesus will do what no earthly ruler has done before. He will rule with justice. He will rule with the authority of God. The nations have never had a ruler like that. The Son of Man appears before the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s vision for one specific purpose – to receive authority over the earth. Jesus received this power and authority because he died and rose again. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” (Matthew 28:18).
The Apostle Paul included an ancient Christian hymn about the exaltation of Jesus in his letter to the Philippians:
“And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)
Daniel was given a glimpse of Jesus in all his heavenly glory 500 years before he came to earth. Daniel asserts first of all that the power of earthly rulers is temporary. Second, that God is sovereign and will judge the world. Third – that Jesus will reign forever. And there is one final promise:
4. His saints will reign with Him in glory
“The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. 26 “ ‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 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 kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ 28 “This is the end of the matter. (Daniel 7:25-28)
This is where you come into the picture. God was thinking of you when he gave Daniel this dream. In verse 18 it says, “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the Kingdom and possess the Kingdom forever, even forever and ever.” Underline the word saint. That’s YOU. The person sitting next to you may not think your a saint, but God does! Put your name in front of that statement: …. saint of the Most High…. Victory for God’s people has never been left in doubt. God always causes his people to triumph. You’re on the winning side today. This is the assurance that God gave Daniel. God warned Daniel of a coming battle between the saints of God and the forces of evil but the outcome is sure.
In verse 21 Daniel saw a beast with ten horns waging war against the saints and for a time prevailing. But then he says, the beast is destroyed and victory is given over to the saints.
Now what does that mean for us? It means that we are going to face some fierce battles.
The presence of evil is going to intensify in the last days, Jesus actually warned us of such a thing. However, in the end we will prevail. Victory for God’s people has never been left in doubt. Followers of Christ share in his victory. We may lose some skirmishes along the way. In a world of uncertainty, anything can happen. But take heart this morning, Christ has secured the victory and he will share it with you. According to Daniel Chapter 7, His victory is our victory as we put our trust in Him. This is because of what we have learnt of Jesus in Daniel.
The power of earthly rulers is temporary. God is sovereign and will judge the world. Jesus will reign over the world forever. His saints will reign with Him in glory. And they all said – “Amen”.
Christ in all the Scriptures
Hosea: Jesus the Bridegroom (Hosea 1)
Daniel: Jesus the Son of Man (Daniel 7)
Ezekiel: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34)
Jeremiah: Jesus and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
Isaiah: Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Psalms: The Cross of Christ (Psalm 22)
Esther: The Providence of God (Esther 4)
Kings: Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
With thanks to Michael Wilcock, Bob Hunter, Brian Atwood, Owen Bourgaize & Mike Wilkins for ideas and content used in this sermon. To view their sermon material visit www.sermoncentral.com