************ Sermon on Daniel 7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 19, 2006
"Four Monsters in a Dream"
Charles Spurgeon used to say that he read the newspaper to see how God was governing the world – that is, to see the Kingdom. This is indeed the best way to read the news in a paper, or watch it on TV, or listen to it on the radio, for otherwise we would be too upset by what we are told. If we follow Spurgeon's method, we can still sing as we find out about disasters, war crimes, and government blunders, for we know that God's hand is somehow guiding these human events.
This Kingdom of God is the central subject of the book of Daniel. The whole book is about the fading glory of the kingdoms of this world as contrasted with the abiding glory of the Kingdom of God. This book gives us insight into the continuing struggle between these two kingdoms.
The book of Daniel is divided into two parts: the first six chapters are history; chapter seven and on are prophecy. The struggle between the two kingdoms is the main theme of both sections.
In Daniel 7 and following we are told about a series of visions Daniel is given about the end times.
I The Four Beasts
A In his dream Daniel sees a great sea that is being stirred up by the four winds of heaven. Thus the sea is one large, foaming, swirling mass of water. It is a raging sea with huge, destructive waves rising and falling. Here, as in the book of Revelation, the turbulent sea is the sea of the nations, a sea that foams and swirls but is never still.
After a violent storm, of course, there is destruction and ruin everywhere. Many ships have gone to the bottom of the ocean. Dikes have been breached. Low land is flooded. Shore lines have been battered. Islands have been washed away. That's also what happens when there is a storm on the sea of the nations. All the maps have to be completely redrawn. Some countries disappear, while other kingdoms are expanded and new ones are formed. We saw that, didn't we, when the Soviet Union broke up?!
B Daniel sees four great beasts emerging from this raging sea, each one different from the one before (7:3). They emerge not at the same time but one after the other. In a later verse Daniel tells us that the four beasts are different world empires that make their appearance throughout history (vs 17). Like the beasts, they emerge not at the same time but one after the other. Thus there are major changes throughout the course of history. One great power fades away and is succeeded by another.
The concept of beasts representing empires should not be strange to us; after all, don't we speak of the American eagle and the Russian bear and doesn't the penguin represent Antarctica and doesn't the koala bear represent Australia? When we use such comparisons, we think mainly of the good qualities of these creatures: like the strength of the bear, the agility of the eagle, the endearing qualities of the koala bear, and so on. However, when the Bible uses animals to represent different empires, it emphasizes their less desirable characteristics.
Think of Daniel's dream as compared to that of King Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar also has a dream of successive world empires. It is a beautiful dream indeed! He sees the world powers as a majestic, gleaming statue. It is a dream of glory and greatness, of culture and beauty and power. He dreams of gold and silver, copper and iron. Daniel, on the other hand, sees the world empires as beast of prey rather than as valuable, glittering metals! He sees them as agents of destruction and death rather than as instruments of culture.
C The four beasts that Daniel sees are a roaring lion (4), a hungry bear (5), a swift leopard (6), and a ferocious animal so horrible in appearance that Daniel does not know what to call it (7-8). We limit the message and meaning of Daniel's vision if we simply identify each of the beasts with a world empire. We have to look at the beasts in much the same way that we look at the sea from which they come. The sea is not any particular body of water that can be located somewhere on a map; as already said, it represents the sea of the nations. The beasts, likewise, are not only particular world empires that must have existed at some time or another. What the prophet Daniel gives us here, in images drawn from the world of animals, is a character study of all the kingdoms of this earth. He sketches all of human history right down to the last day, when the Kingdom of God will put an end to all human kingdoms, when all earthly powers will be struck down by the "breath of His mouth" (2 Thess 2:8). In other words, there is no world power, no empire, no nation that is not covered by Daniel's dream.
D The first beast to emerge from the sea is a lion with the wings of an eagle. It is a beast with great power and an even greater reach because it can fly anywhere. Daniel says, "I watched until its wings were torn off." In losing its wings it was robbed of its might, cut down in size, and even shattered. Usually the lion has been identified with the Babylonian empire of Nebuchadnezzar. But, as I already mentioned, there is no world empire to which the dream of Daniel does not apply.
The image of the battered lion, then, is universal in its application. Again and again, empires rise, enjoy a period of glory, decline, and collapse. In our time we have seen example after example of lions with eagles' wings getting their wings clipped: Nazi Germany, Great Britain, the U.S.S.R, Iraq. The fate of the lion is the destiny of all earthly kingdoms – including the United States. We need to remind ourselves that the Almighty God has decreed that the world and everything in it will pass away. Only the Kingdom of God is eternal and will not pass away:
(Daniel 7:14) His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The lion's loss of its wings reminds us, then, that the great powers of this earth are transitory, that they inevitably lose their power and fade away.
Next comes the bear. This is a particularly ravenous and aggressive animal. While it is still busy devouring the prey it has just killed and still has three ribs between its teeth, it is already preparing for an attack on a new victim.
Those who identify the lion with Babylon naturally equate the bear with the kingdom of the Medes and Persians. It's true, of course, that the Medes and Persians were always interested in conquest and expansion. They were always hungry – hungry for land. But has there ever been a great power that wasn't hungry? Aggression is characteristic of all earthly powers. Attack and counter-attack is the order of the day.
The bear is followed by a leopard. Daniel sees that the leopard has four wings and four heads. Many identify the leopard with the empire established by Alexander the Great. Alexander was known for the surprising swiftness of his conquests. He can certainly be compared to a leopard making a lightning-quick pursuit and capture of its prey, or even a leopard that has sprouted wings to make it go still faster – no doubt the fastest creature on earth. As for the four heads, you might recall from history lessons that after Alexander's death his kingdom was divided among four rulers.
Again, the flying leopard is true of many powers. Think of the speed with which Hitler's armies moved. Think of the jets and missiles we used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fourth beast is not identified by Daniel. This beast seems unlimited in its capacities. It is terrifying and frightening and very powerful. Daniel does not know what to call it, for it resembles animal, machine, and even man. The animal features are dominant – Daniel calls it a beast. But the iron teeth and bronze claws (7:19) with which it crunches and devours and tramples everything underfoot makes us think more of a machine. And the horn with the eyes of a man and a mouth that speaks boastfully makes us think of something human. Usually this fourth beast has been identified with the Roman Empire.
In today's world we can almost imagine such a beast. I think of our soldiers in computerized tanks, ships, planes, and submarines. I think of satellites in the sky that see and hear everything happening below. I think of slick propaganda machines that churn out one mighty boast after another.
II God's Lessons
A The four monsters in a dream are not mere fantasy; this is not a horrible nightmare made up by an over-vivid imagination. It is a revelation sent by God for Daniel to see and learn and know. And, through Daniel, God gives a revelation to us too.
What is God telling us? The four monsters find their culmination in that fourth beast. And that fourth beast, we are told, directs its great power especially against "the Most High" and "the saints" – which is the church of Jesus Christ (7:25,21). The result is total war between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.
Daniel's dream reminds us, then, of the age-long struggle between the offspring of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). We've been told that world history is dominated by the struggle between capitalism and communism, or between democracy and dictatorships; but the simplest child of God knows that world history is dominated by the struggle between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. We know there is a basic antithesis, a basic disharmony, between the church and the world. And the struggle between the two is destined to continue until one side vanquishes and destroys the other.
Actually, in spite of the basic antithesis between the church and the world, there is a remarkable similarity between the two. The similarity is this: both want to expand; both sides respect no boundaries; both want to be supreme; both want to totally destroy the other. The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world are eager to embrace all creatures; both want every knee to bow and every tongue to confess.
This reminds us that the church, as part of the Kingdom of God, should be interested in growth, in missions, in evangelism. The church knows that the entire world belongs to King Jesus. She knows that she must go out to reclaim all men, people, and nations for the Lord. She should want all people at all times and in all of life to acknowledge the rule of Jesus.
Yet, there is one big difference between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. The church does not depend on force. In fact, it renounces the use of the sword. It has no iron teeth or bronze claws. All it has is a mouth, from which emerge not proud words or boasts but the beautiful promises of the Gospel.
B What is God telling us? Daniel's dream reminds us that the whole world is ultimately anti-Christ, anti-God, and anti-Christian. Don't forget that the four monsters find their culmination in that fourth beast. And that fourth beast, we are told, directs its great power especially against "the Most High" and "the saints" – which is the church of Jesus Christ (7:25,21).
The whole world and the kingdoms of this world are ultimately anti-Christ, anti-God, and anti-Christian. One kingdom may lay aside its mask more quickly than another, but it's only a matter of time before the anti-Christian character comes to the forefront. Think of our own country. "In God we trust," says our coins. "One nation under God," says our pledge of allegiance. We know many pay only lip service to this and many others want to remove these references to God. As prayer and Bible reading are banned from our public schools, as displays of the Ten Commandments are removed from our court rooms, as oaths in God's name become a thing of the past, as opening prayers at public events can no longer be done in Jesus' name, we are beginning to see the anti-Christian character of our culture and nation.
The message of the Bible is that as the final days approach the anti-Christian character of all powers will become increasingly evident. And, we who are Christian will be hated by all nations, even by those who claim to be fighting for freedom.
C What is God telling us? There is another truth to be learned. The statesmen, politicians, and scientists of the world want us to believe that we are facing endless progress, that in the area of international relations things are getting better and better. As proof they point to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the advent of democracy in the Middle East. However, things like the war on terror, the mistreatment and torture of prisoners, the belligerence of Iran, and continued concerns about North Korea teach us there is no real progress.
Daniel's four monsters teach us the same thing. Human civilization is not on an upward but on a downward spiral. Daniel dreams not of angels but of the most horrible monsters. What arises from the turbulent sea of the nations is not peace and tranquility but a series of beasts of prey, each one more vicious than the one before. The culmination of human civilization is the unnamed fourth beast – man, machine, animal – that speaks against God and wages war on the saints.
D What is God telling us? God's final word is one of victory. Yes, there are four monsters. Yes, there is fight and struggle and many casualties. Yes, there is much that is godless and heathen. Yes, there is much to turn our stomachs and make us sick. However, the lion of Babylon will be defeated by the Lamb of Judah. And in this great victory the church will participate:
(Daniel 7:27) 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.'
(Revelation 17:14) ... the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings--and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful ...
Topic: Second Coming of ChristDaniel's dream of the four monsters reminds us, congregation, that we are swiftly moving toward that "one far-off divine event."
There is an inscription on the walls of the Library of Congress which few people know about. It says: "One far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves." A visitor saw this inscription and asked the guide what it meant. He said: "I think it refers to the second coming of Christ." When the Library of Congress was erected, some God-fearing official ordered that inscription to be etched in the dome of our seat of government, believing that its truth was vital to the concern of our nation.
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