************ Sermon on Daniel 8:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 26, 2005
"A Ram and a Goat"
The dream in chapter 7 of Daniel calls attention to the Antichrist, who is to appear at the end of time. The vision before us this evening shows us what the world and the church will look like at that time. Thus, as our text puts it, Daniel 8 gives us a glimpse of "the time of the end."
I The Life of the World
A Daniel saw a ram with two powerful horns, one bigger than the other. The ram charged to the west and the north and the south (vs 3,4).
This animal represents a kingdom charging out of the east to attack the rest of the world on three fronts, butting others out of the way with its horns. That ram "did as he pleased and became great" (vs 4). That's what Daniel saw – conquest, land-grabbing, military might. There stood the powerful ram – proud and secure. "No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power" (vs 4).
But things change quickly in human history. Hardly has the ram appeared on the stage of world history than a goat approaches from the west (vs 5). This western world power charges the power from the east with such speed that its feet hardly seem to touch the ground and with such force that the powerful ram doesn't stand a chance (Dan 8:7). Thus, the powerful ram is defeated by the even more powerful goat.
Again we see the story of rise and fall played out before our eyes. Daniel says,
(Dan 8:8) The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven. Thus the world power symbolized by the goat falls from the heights too. We are not told how this fall takes place, but his strength is suddenly broken. The great horn is shattered and makes way for four others. Gabriel tells Daniel that,
(Dan 8:22) The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power. In other words, the great kingdom of the goat is broken and divided into four smaller kingdoms.
And then at the end of time there will arise a king who will take advantage of the powerlessness and exhaustion of the nations that waste their strength in war against each other. He establishes his might on the ruins of the weakened nations. He is represented by the small horn that sprouts from the four mighty horns arising from the goat. Yet, even he will be destroyed (vs 25).
B What does this tell us? What is the lesson here? We are being told about the great irony of world history. Daniel's dream reminds us that no matter how strong they may be, all earthly powers come and go. First the ram is the mightiest power in all the world, and then the goat is the mightiest, and then he is overthrown in another upheaval. Having seen the dissolution of both the Nazi and British empires during World War II, the dissolution of the Russian empire, and the weakness of the United States in the face of global terrorism, we know the truth of Daniel's words, don't we?! We are being reminded this evening that there is only one power that is forever and there is only one kingdom that will never be destroyed – and that is the Kingdom of God and His Son (Dan 7:14). God the Lord rules!
Daniel looks and sees horns, horns, and more horns! All those horns look so powerful, mighty, and indestructible. But what most impresses Daniel about the horns is not their might but their fragility, their weakness. The horns are broken one after the other, to symbolize how kingdom after kingdom is destroyed. The dominant impression is not one of victory but of defeat! Each victor is conquered in turn. When the smoke of warfare clears away, there is no horn that has not been broken and no power that does not lie dying. Again, there is only one power that endures forever and there is only one kingdom that will never be destroyed – and that is the Kingdom of God and His Son (Dan 7:14). God the Lord rules!
C It is Gabriel, the interpreter, who tells Daniel what all this means:
(Dan 8:20) The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. The kingdom of the Medes and Persians was indeed established after Belshazzar's death. It went on to become master of three-fourths of the then known world, pushing ahead with its horns like the powerful ram.
"The shaggy goat is the king of Greece" (vs 21). With incredible speed – just like the goat in the vision – Alexander the Great, king of Greece, then proceeded to conquer the world.
But there is more. Gabriel then went on to explain the four horns:
(Dan 8:22) The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power. That prophecy was also fulfilled. Just as Gabriel said, the Greek empire was split up into four parts, each part having its own ruler.
We know that the confusion of this era was exploited by Antiochus Epiphanes. He is the small horn that started small but grew in power. Like the small horn, he established his power on the ruins of the weakened nations. Like the small horn he tormented and persecuted the people of God and set himself against the Lord.
D As an aside, we are being shown something about Scripture here. How do we know the Bible is true? How do we know the books are inspired? The Belgic Confession of Faith mentions two things. First, because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God. Second, because they prove themselves to be from God. When he wrote this, Guido De Bres was thinking of the forth-telling, the predictions, to be found in Daniel 8. Just imagine, while Daniel was serving Belshazzar, king of Babylon, he was shown the successive world empires: the Medes & Persians, Alexander the Great, Greece, Antiochus Epiphanes. Some say Daniel is not prophecy, it is but history, written after the fact – around 200 B.C. They say that because they don't believe in inspiration or in God. But we know better. The Word is inspired. It is of God and from God. To God it is but a small matter to reveal to men what will happen in the future. So we take Daniel at his word and believe God revealed to him the future of the world and of worldly powers!
II The Life of the Church
A In Daniel 8 we are also told something about the future life of God's people. We see this future life when we take a closer look at Antiochus Epiphanes, who foreshadows the Antichrist.
Daniel foretells that Antiochus will be a "master of intrigue" (vs 23); this means he will know how to use trickery and deceit to reach his goal. We see this in his program of Hellenization – of making Jerusalem and its people Greek.
Antiochus knew that many Jews were greatly impressed by Greek culture and learning. So Antiochus did whatever he could to encourage the Jews to adopt Greek customs and ideals. He established Greek centers of learning in Palestine. He proclaimed himself to be one of the Greek gods and deserving of worship. Shortly after gaining the throne Antiochus was called upon to settle a dispute between two brothers of the high-priestly family, Onias III and Jason. Jason secured the high priesthood by bribing Antiochus with a larger sum of money and by promising his wholehearted support for the establishment of Greek culture and learning in Jerusalem. Antiochus also made a point of giving the choicest government positions to Jews sympathetic to Greek culture. Naturally this method was a great success, for when the question of jobs and money enters the picture "principles" often don't count anymore. It should not surprise us that Daniel foretells that Antiochus "will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people" (vs 24).
Antiochus knew that the best way to get rid of the church is to infiltrate and secularize her. Once she is just like the world she becomes weak and ineffective. Antiochus knew that Greek culture and true religion are like oil and water – they do not mix (cf 2 Cor 6:14-16). The introduction of Greek culture and thought into Israel can result in only one thing: sin is unchecked as the worship and service of God is compromised. Or, as Daniel tells us, "rebels ... become completely wicked" (vs 23).
Most of the Jews gave Antiochus no trouble at all: they quickly became Greek in custom and thought. However, as in every age, there was a core of faithful believers. They were only a small group, a remnant, but they had the courage to oppose the efforts of Antiochus to destroy the church.
Because of this remnant Antiochus changed his tactics. The friendly smile disappeared from his face as the gentle persuader became harsh and grim. Now he would use force to bring those stubborn fanatics to their knees. Thus a period of fierce religious persecution began, as cunning was replaced by strong-arm tactics.
Daniel foretells this too. He tells us that Antiochus will be a "stern-faced king" (vs 23); this means he will be harsh and grim and not afraid to use violence. History tells us what happened. In 168 B.C. Antiochus sent 22,000 soldiers to Jerusalem. Coming under the pretense of peace, they attacked Jerusalem on the Sabbath, knowing that orthodox Jews would not fight. They killed many people, women and children were taken as slaves, and the city was plundered and burned. Shortly afterward, in 167 B.C., Antiochus issued a decree that all the holy books of the Old Testament were to be burned. Thus Daniel's words were literally fulfilled, for he had foretold that the truth would be cast to the ground (vs 12). Observance of the Sabbath, festivals, sacrifices, circumcision, and public prayer were all forbidden. The penalties were severe: sometimes a mother who dared to have her child circumcised would be brought to the place of judgment with the corpse of her baby tied around her neck.
The most effective step taken by Antiochus was to forbid the daily offering, the burning sacrifice that had to be lit every morning and every evening, according to the law. Without this sacrifice public worship was impossible. Instead, Antiochus set up idolatrous altars, and ordered the Jews to offer and eat unclean sacrifices.
The climatic infamous deed occurred on December 16, 167 B.C. when the Temple in Jerusalem became the place of the worship of the Greek God Zeus. Pig flesh was offered on an altar of Zeus erected on top of the Jewish altar of burnt offering. All this Daniel also foretold (Dan 8:11-12).
B We greatly underestimate the depth and meaning of Scripture when we assume Daniel's vision is nothing more than a chapter in the history of Israel. Daniel's vision would not have been preserved for us in the Bible if the events in them were not a foreshadowing of what will happen to us at the end of time. You see, we too will have to face an Antiochus Epiphanes, whom we know as the Antichrist. Like Antiochus, he will be "a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue ... who will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does" (vs 23-24).
Like the Christ, the Antichrist is waiting for the "fullness of time" (Gal 4:4). His time will come when the condition of the church is what this chapter describes for us. The Antichrist is waiting for a time when "rebels have become completely wicked" (vs 23).
As we look around the world today we get some idea of what Daniel is talking about. Today, sin is openly advertized and promoted in the public media. Not only that, but the church is mocked and condemned for her bigotry and narrow-mindedness if she dares to condemn sin as sin. The wickedness we see now is great. This tells us that the world is being prepared for the arrival of the Antichrist, that his time is getting closer and closer.
The Antichrist is waiting for the fullness of time when the church has been thoroughly secularized. The Apostle Paul says,
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.The Antichrist is waiting for a time when the church does conform to the pattern of this world. He is waiting for a time when the church has lost is saltiness and is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men (Mt 5:13). When that happens he will be successful in ruling the world.
We see here the importance of a worldly church. A worldly church helps Satan in his work of evil and sin. A worldly church aids and abets the works of darkness. A worldly church gives the Antichrist no opposition.
We also see here the importance of a faithful church, a church with a strong and vibrant faith. When the Antichrist builds his kingdom on the trash-heap of the nations, a faithful church is the only source of opposition that he has. When the Antichrist appears, a faithful church is the only thing that stands between him and total control. When the Antichrist appears, a faithful church is the only ray of hope in a world that has grown "completely wicked."
As we look at the church today we get some idea of what Daniel is talking about. Just as Greek customs and learning pushed aside the worship of God in Jerusalem, so the patterns of this world are pushing aside the worship of God in the church.
I look at the North American church today and I see secular Christians everywhere. I'm not just talking about the young but about the old too – people from whom you would expect better. I call them Christian because they come to worship every Sunday and attend some church functions throughout the year. Many of them are extremely nice and kind people. You can't accuse them of gross immoralities.
I also call them "secular" Christians because their time and energy are all devoted to eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, fishing and bowling, volleyball and basketball (cf Lk 17:27-28). They are secular because their horizon does not extend to heaven. They are secular because in their day-to-day life they do not "seek the things that are above" (Col 3:2). They are secular because the Lord, His will, His leading in their life is never considered. They are secular because instead of living and acting as citizens of heaven, they live and act as if they were citizens of earth alone.
It is scary, what Daniel tells us about the last days and the Antichrist. Yet, they are not intended to make us discouraged or scared. For we know that even then God is in control. We know that even the Antichrist will someday meet a power greater than his and he too will join the garbage heap of the nations and powers that are no more. We know there will come a time when Jesus is gonna win.
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