Daniel 7:2–7, 13–14 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. 4 “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 human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. 5 “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!’ 6 “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. 7 “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. 13 “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 nations and peoples 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. 15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.
For a time earlier this week, it seemed like the internet was going to melt with accounts and stories and videos of Paris and its attacks. None caught my attention quite like the one I read of a young man who walked the streets of Paris hours just after the attacks. He said, “I went out into the streets. I was confused and afraid, of course. But the terrible things that had happened — I wanted to see them for myself, breathe them in, walk among them. It was a little past 11 and the streets were deserted, silent. Paris no longer existed. Paris had fallen… there was war.” After his walk he went home and when he arrived he bumped into his neighbor and after a more intense, knowing greeting than usual she exclaimed, “This is the end! Where are we going to live now?” That question caused him to go back to his apartment and write. He wanted to try to answer that question, but he couldn’t. He got to the end of his article and he was still at a loss writing, “Where are we going to live now? I still don’t know how to answer.”
Daniel didn’t either. Really. He didn’t. And, yeah, this is the same Daniel that by faith made kittens out of hungry lions in an event that was immortalized as Daniel and the Lion’s Den even before Veggie Tales got a hold of it. This is that Daniel. The Daniel that had been swept away from his homeland in an international resettlement campaign. The Daniel that had lived through the turmoil of seeing his friends get tossed into a fiery furnace, and the Daniel that had almost been offed when Nebuchadnezzar went cra cra on the people he wanted to interpret his dreams. This is that Daniel. We’re talking about one of the best educated and most faith-filled men in history. Bar none. We’re talking about a guy who had seen and experienced regime change and was emotionally mature in the best of ways. We’re talking about a wise and powerful statesman, who was probably in his mid-sixties. That’s why you get the definite impression that the way Daniel was feeling after this vision was totally out of character for him. Listen to how he self-reports his experience here. “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.” (v. 15)
Even the experienced, brilliant statesman. Even the faith-filled and mature man. Even Daniel was troubled. And he doesn’t spare you the details about his emotional and spiritual state here. He’s actually very comprehensive about it. He said he was troubled in spirit and his mind disturbed him. He was saying, “I’ve not only got a horrible feeling deep down in my gut about this vision of world history, but also my mind is spinning all over the place because of it.” Emotionally he was out of whack. Rationally he was struggling. And as the chapter progresses it gets no better for Daniel. By the end of the chapter the poor guy’s inner anxiety even causes physiological symptoms. His face greys and he emotionally shuts down. He simply says, “This is the end of the matter… I kept the matter to myself.” (v. 28) In other words, “I can’t deal with this. I need to shut down. Daniel out!” It’s enough to make you want to say, “Poor Daniel. Will someone help his troubled soul out?”
And do you know when the Spirit shows us this downer Daniel in this book? Just as we’re fresh off the joy and the victory of the lion’s den experience. Literally the last lines of chapter six read, “He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions. So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” (6:27–28) And after you read that you’re thinking, “Sweet! Tell me more. Regimes will change. Kingdoms will rise and fall and everything will be ok for the people of faith.” And fresh off that victory. Fresh off that real confidence giving story comes a vision that inspires fears of the worst kind. Beasts rise and they’re beasts for a reason. The beasts represent predatory nations and powers. Lion-like, bear-like, and leopard-like nations rise, but the last preditorial nation? It’s the worst. It seems Daniel is so overwhelmed by its power and its devastating behavior that he doesn’t even seem able to give it an animal type, a species. Every other kind of beast has an animal type and temperament in the vision. Except the last one. It’s so powerful and venomous and destructive that it has no animal type. It seems to be its own kind of special evil.
Now I suppose I could rattle off for you the nation states Daniel is seeing here. I suppose we could step back and do world history 101 and I could point out what an accurate prophecy Daniel give us here. I suppose I could lecture to you about Babylonian magnificence, Persian opulence, Alexander the Great’s military conquests, and then go on and on about destructive Roman power – exactly the nations and powers Daniel sees here. I suppose I could do that, but I think probably what’s more important for our purposes today and closer to what the Spirit’s after is not a dry and academic understanding of the twists and turns of ruling nations in history. What the Spirit wants us to know in a very real and very personal way is that until the end of time predatory governments and leaders will even hurt God’s people. Like when a Russian airliner gets downed on a flight from an Egyptian resort. Like when Paris reels. Like when presidential debates turn on a dime and good candidates rise only to fall. Like when policy makers don’t know whether to help weary Syrian refugees or risk taking in Syrian terrorists. Like when Fox News rages or MSNBC spins over the latest and the greatest political moment. Like when never again never seems to actually be now.
That’s the kind of stuff that makes our heads spin and our stomachs knot up. Just like it did for Daniel. Because we understand that nation state history is never something that only happens around us. It’s always something that happens to us. We all get that at a deep level. There’s a reason why what happened in Paris didn’t stay in Paris. There’s a reason why it seemed like that event hacked all our Facebook feeds and lit up all our Twitter accounts. There’s a reason why we have our cable TV news stations droning on in our living rooms and talk radio filling the cabins of our cars. There’s a reason why we even had people at our Aiken County Council meeting saying, “Given our close proximity to the Savannah River Site… we’re a prime target for terrorists looking to do us harm.” We’re afraid. We’re afraid that as history happens to us that it will harm us and our land and the ones we love. That if we don’t manage to get the right president or have the right policy response or employ the correct military strategy that some governmental or systemic predator will attack us in unthinkable and horrible ways.
And that’s why immediately after God describes the predators, he gives the prophetic promise. It’s a prophetic promise that’s nothing short of one of Scripture’s greatest and most memorable so much so that it forms the backbone of much of what the New Testament has to say about God’s ruling activity among us. And it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a prophesy that says that a certain figure will come not only to check predatory and beastly powers, but to defang and destroy them. That figure? Shockingly? That figure is one, “like a son of man.” (v. 13) Which, honestly, on its face sounds totally unexceptional and completely boring. It’s just a person who looks like a normal guy. Like a plumber or a mechanic or someone who pushes paper in some office. Just a person who looks like a normal guy. We only find out that this figure is someone special when we see his ride. That’s when it gets interesting because we find out that this guy is, “coming with the clouds of heaven.” (v. 13) Not on a jet. Not in Benz or an Aston Martin. The clouds of heaven. Do you see what that means? That means he’s not only self-propelled, he’s also self-levitating. And since he’s that, he might as well prove to us that manipulating the weather systems and messing with the cloud patterns is child’s play for him so he rides them right into the presence of the Ancient Days, God himself.
And then as if this cloud riding doesn’t make it clear who and what this figure is Daniel specifies it even further. And he does so with so much force that this can’t be mere academics. “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples 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.” (v. 14) Do you see how that amounts to academic and teaching overkill? It could’ve simply and very academically read, “This one like a son of man will rule everything forever.” But it doesn’t say that. There’s massive teaching overkill here. There isn’t just authority talked about. There’s authority and glory and power. And it doesn’t just say that this figure will have authority, glory, and power over everything. It says he has authority, power and glory over all nations and people of every language. We’re talking about one universal kingdom! That kind of talk is supposed to push our trust in this figure right on past an academic or intellectual level. That kind of talk is supposed to descend right down into the emotional and faith centers of our being. Daniel gives us this forceful description of the son of man so that we fully rely on him as our King.
And this ruling activity that this prophetic promise is encouraging us to trust? We’re not only given massive amounts of overkill about its universality – its size – but also its historical extent. Did you catch that? The prophesy doesn’t just say that it’s an everlasting dominion. It goes on to hammer home to us that this everlasting dominion will not pass away. And just in case that strikes us impersonally or academically or in a merely informational way Daniel goes on yet from there to say that his kingdom will never be destroyed. It’s universal. It’s unending. And we are to internalize that in far more than an academic or intellectual way. Especially since here and now we sit. Especially since here and now we sit in the time after Alexander the Great croaked and Rome rose. Especially since here and now we sit in the time when the vast majority of this prophecy isn’t prophecy anymore. It’s almost entirely a fulfillment.
So says Jesus. One day there he sat. He sat on trial before the High Priest and when he was asked if he was the Christ he verbatim quoted this passage about himself. With just one little twist. He dropped the, “like.” Because no longer in history was he merely like a son of man. He was the Son of Man. In fact, do you know what Jesus’ favorite name for himself was? Yup. You guessed it. The Son of Man. Daniel’s prophetic promise fulfilled: Jesus is the ruling Son of Man. And right there and right then from history’s oddest looking throne, a cross, he began his rule. Not gaining order with an extensive and divine nuclear arsenal, but ruling sin with his sacrifice. Not getting a border transcending justice with a massive military campaign, but giving the gift of his divine life. Not bashing people over the head with his authority, but drawing subjects to himself with his kingly and royal grace: the forgiveness of our sins. And for now – for now – that’s what he’s up to. Until he’s not anymore. Until it’s time for the last little bit of Daniel’s prophecy to come true. Until it’s time for Jesus to ride the clouds to the universal and everlasting rule where he’s going to put down for good every beastly power forever.
I’m not saying that Fox News shouldn’t ever send a dart of fear through us again. I’m not suggesting that Paris shouldn’t impact federal policy or we shouldn’t care about the presidential debates. For now, beast-like nations and powers are real. What I am saying is that Daniel is giving you a vision of a ruler so powerful and so life-giving that it is to become for us something far more than informational. It’s to make its way down deeply into us. It’s to become our faith and fill us with trust so profound that it seems to hack our Facebook feeds and light up our Twitter accounts, drown out cable TV’s droning, and hijack our golf cart conversations. That it becomes what we know and we share and our one true hope – a ruler so universal and so eternal that it transcends every border, every jihadist ambition, and every political push. A ruler so complete and so saving that no matter what history happens to us; what nation threatens; or what terror strikes; we run to it. We run to the ruler who as firmly as he propels the clouds will propel us into his universal and eternal kingdom.
Honestly? I’m no better or smarter than that young man who walked the streets of Paris that Friday night. If you asked me where I can live in this world and always be completely safe, I couldn’t tell you. You know what I can tell you? I can tell you with whom you can live so that you’re completely safe. That much I know and now you do too: Christ, the Son of Man, our King. Amen.