SFA 525 The Church’s one foundation
SFB 1010 Spirit of holiness
BHB 559 Through the night…
BHB 548 My faith it is an oaken staff
Here’s what I heard God saying to me. “Tell them how this is about Jesus.” Where is the Gospel in this?
And that was a challenge. Because this is perhaps the most straightforward chapter of Daniel. The explanation is explicit – Daniel sees in his vision a ram and a goat. The ram is the waning Medo-Persian empire, and the goat is the coming Greek empire. The four horns are the four parts into which the Greek empire divided after the death of Alexander the Great, and the ‘little horn’ is clearly Antiochus Epiphanes, who not only ruled Israel, but sought to destroy Israel’s worship, their scriptures and the temple.
Daniel’s message confused him – and no wonder, as it didn’t have any direct relevance to his own day. He would be long buried by the time addressed here. He’s even instructed to stick it in a time capsule, with ‘open in 450 years’ written on it. And then, it would remind the people that God had seen all this coming, and was still God. Interestingly, while chapters 2-7 are written in the common language of the Persian empire, Aramaic, now that we’re on to visions that concern the far future, Daniel writes in Hebrew.
The vision is so detailed, so accurate, and so precise that some writers conclude that it simply must have been written after the events described had happened. The time of Antiochus Epiphanes came to an end in 164 BC. And he was defeated by Judas Maccabeus. I love the fact that Judas Maccabeus means ‘Judas the Sledgehammer’ (Handel’s ‘Conquering Hero). Jews then and now celebrate the rededication of the temple at the Festival of Hanukkah in December. Some say that Daniel 8 was a story assembled to encourage the people as they celebrated Hanukkah. I don’t see why that would make sense – and if we believe God is the God of history, we don’t need to have a problem with the content. What’s more, parts of the book of Daniel as old as 120BC were found at Qumran, so there was very little time for Daniel to become accepted as ‘scripture’ if it had only been written 50 years earlier.
So – what about us, some 2600 years later? What does this have to say about Jesus?
Let’s think. Daniel is telling a future generation that a day will come when it will look as if a godless state will have beaten God. When the holy men will have been destroyed. When the sanctuary will be destroyed, and truth thrown to the ground.
A day will come when people of faith call out in anguish – ‘how long must this go on? What does it all mean?’ A day will come when deceit prospers, and intrigue.
And Daniel is explaining that behind the politics, behind the movements of empires and armies, there is another battle going on – and it’s the battle between light and dark, between good and evil. That’s what the angels and the visions are all explaining. There’s more to this than meets the eye.
And the message Daniel communicates to the exiles is quite a simple one – this is not the end of the story. God will not be defeated by this.
And that sense of ‘something bigger going on’ is one that Jesus echoes.
Temptations: ‘All the kingdoms…’
Matt 24 – the abomination that causes desolation.
Matt 25 – sheep and the goats. The world sees one thing; God sees more.
Jesus before Pilate: ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’
Above and beyond the visible, the immediate, is something altogether bigger. And, Daniel says, that battle has been fought and decided. Daniel’s vision didn’t stretch all that far – he could just see that God would do something: ‘he will be destroyed, but not by human power.’ (8:25)
The question that Daniel had to answer was ‘where, when will all this end?’ And God knows that’s the question on our lips: ‘This concerns the appointed time of the end’. And that question is a question, ultimately, about Jesus. For the answer is simply ‘when he comes.’ 2 Thess 5 is the NT re-statement of Daniel 8 – and it says the same thing. The decisive battle has been fought and won; this is all as it was meant to be.
And what Daniel asked regarding the vision he had seen, and what he heard – that related to Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC, and to Jerusalem in 70AD, and to all the conflict of these last days, and to the return of Christ. Jesus, in the gospel passages like Mark 13 and Matthew 24, makes it plain that the visions of Daniel relate both to ‘then’ and to ‘now’, and we don’t need to be scared of that. Ultimately, He is the conqueror, he is the victor, he is ‘one like a son of man’, he is the one who will judge the earth.
What’s the gospel? It is the message that the broken relationship between man and God can be restored through Jesus Christ. And is that message found in Daniel 8? Yes, written in huge characters. All the brokenness of mankind’s way is seen in the violence of the beasts. This is what sin ends up doing. All the longing of the human heart for peace, hope and a way home is felt in the cry ‘how long’. And all the promise of the gospel message is found in that assurance – the Holy Place will be made righteous again. The evil will be destroyed, but not by human power. The making righteous comes through the actions of Jesus. The defeat comes through the power of him who raised Jesus from the dead.
Story of the roadsweeper reading revelation.