Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Thoughts on the Vision of Daniel 7

Daniel's Vision of the Four Beasts, by Matthew Merian (1630)
This Lord's Day, I will be preaching on Daniel 7. This is a complicated and often debated passage. Some interpret this vision to be about Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees, others interpret to be about the Antichrist and the second coming, and others interpret it as partly about Christ's ascension and partly about the Antichrist and the second coming. I do not think this passage has anything to do with the antichrists mentioned in 1 and 2 John, nor do I think that its focus is on Antiochus Epiphanes (although Daniel 8 will focus on him). While I am not equally certain of all the details of the chapter, here are a few points on this vision that begin to lay out my approach.

1. The vision of "one like a son of man" coming with the clouds to the "Ancient of Days" portrays the exaltation and ascension of Jesus Christ.  "The Son of Man" was the name that Jesus most used for Himself, identifying Himself with this figure in Daniel's vision. This is not a vision of Jesus' second coming, since it portrays Him coming, not to earth, but to the Ancient of Days in heaven. This same scene is portrayed in Revelation 4-5.

2. The "one like a son of man" is interpreted in Daniel 7 to symbolize the saints (7:18). Just as a given figure in Daniel's visions can symbolize both an earthly king and his kingdom, so also the "one like a son of man" symbolizes both Christ and the saints. Thus, just as Christ is exalted and receives the kingdom, so the saints (by virtue of their union with Christ) are exalted and receive the kingdom (Luke 22:29, Rev. 5:10, Eph. 2:6). Likewise, the suffering under the "little horn" that precedes this exaltation applies to both Christ and His people. As Jesus said, "it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things" (Mark 9:12).

3. The four beasts refer to four world kingdoms, the same as the four world kingdoms of the statue in Daniel 2, which are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (under Alexander and his successors), and Rome. The first empire is identified as Babylon in chapter 2:37-38. The empire to conquer Babylon was the that of the Medes and Persians. The third empire, which conquered the Medes and Persians, was the Greek empire of Alexander the Great, which continued to exist in a divided state under his four successors (see 7:6 and 8:8). The fourth empire, which conquered these divided kingdoms, was Rome. I think the best explanation of the horns of the fourth beast that I have read is the one given by John Calvin. He argued that the ten horns symbolized the multiplicity of rulers under the Roman Republic, and the little horn symbolized the rule by one man in the line of Roman emperors.

4. The son of man/saints are delivered over to the little horn of the fourth beast. Jesus is crucified and the saints are persecuted under Rome. But the Father makes His judgment in their favor. The beast/little horn looses its dominion and is destroyed (7:11-12, 26). The rebellious kingdom of man lost authority over Christ when He rose from the dead, and all the kingdoms under heaven were given to Christ as His royal inheritance (7:11-14). Although the Roman emperors sought to persecute the saints, their opposition was overcome by the gospel (7:24-27). Universal authority was given to Christ so that "all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him" (7:14), and ever since then, He has been exercising His dominion, bringing all nations into His service as the saints carry out His great commission.

Update: the sermon on Daniel 7 is now available online at this link

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