The Message of the book of Daniel

The book of Daniel is the answer to a question. A question which agitated the world in Daniel’s day, and now, some 2,600 years later, still deeply concerns the nations of the world. The question is, ‘Who will rule the world?’

Daniel was a prince or nobleman of the tribe of Judah, 1. 6, led away captive to Babylon as a young man. Devoted to God throughout his long life, he was a prophet of God during the exile.

When it seemed from the human point of view that the cause of the God of Israel was ended, because the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed and Israel was in captivity, then God used Daniel in a threefold manner.

First, God raised Daniel by direct and miraculous means to the highest office in the successive empires of Babylon and Medo- Persia. Second, God used him to give shortrange prophecies to successive monarchs about the immediate fortunes of their empires of thus showing that the God of Israel was alive and in control of world events and at the same time giving proof of Daniel’s prophetic office. Third, God used him to give long-range prophecies about the course of human history, thus showing that God is the God of human destiny and will bring history to His own conclusion. The fulfilment of the short-term prophecies were the proof of the fulfilment of the longterm prophecies. When God’s purposes seemed to have failed, Daniel was used to show that they had scarcely begun.

Four compelling reasons caused the book of Daniel to be written. First, it was necessary from God’s point of view. Such was the outlook of nations at this period that they believed in many gods, one for each nation. In their eyes Bel was as surely the god of the Babylonians as Jehovah was the god of Israel. When one nation conquered another, it meant that the god of the victor was more powerful than the god of the vanquished. Now the Babylonians had conquered Judah, the prestige of Jehovah was eclipsed in their estimation. God chose this moment, when His testimony to the nations was in danger of extinction, to take a great step forward in the revelation of Himself to mankind. The book of Daniel records how God revealed Himself as both the God of all nations and the God of history.

Second, it was necessary for the nations of the world. How could they come to the knowledge of the only true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, Ruler over all nations, the Shaper of human destiny, unless He visibly demonstrated these truths concerning Himself? The message of the book of Daniel is a statement of divine sovereignty to all nations, both ancient and modern.

Third, it was needful for the encouragement of Israel. Conquered by the Chaldeans, in exile in a foreign land, Jerusalem and the temple destroyed, well might God’s people lose faith. The book of Daniel tells them that their own sins were the cause of the national disaster, 9. 5-19. But the disaster is only temporary, they will return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem 9. 2. Although their national future will be turbulent, Chapter 11, yet they will be preserved as God’s people and they will be the means whereby the Messiah will come, 9. 24-25.

Fourth, Daniel as the man in the midst of these events was uniquely fitted to speak God’s message. Jeremiah spoke to the Jews left behind in the land of Judah, Ezekiel spoke to the Jews in captivity, but Daniel spoke to the heads of the empires.

The message of the book of Daniel is given in five visions:

Chapter 2. The dream image;
Chapter 7. The four beasts;
Chapter 8. The ram and the he-goat;
Chapter 9. The seventy weeks – sevens of years;
Chapters 10 and 11. The kings of the north and the kings of the south.

Two of these visions, the first and the second, each give an outline of Daniel’s message. The other three visions give more details to parts of that outline. Briefly Daniel’s message is this, that there will be four world empires. Although universal in extent, they will only be temporary in duration. When the fourth has passed, universal rule will be no more. The nations will never again be able to adhere in unity to form one world empire. But a kingdom of heavenly origin will arise, eventually to embrace the whole world. Unlike the previous empires it will not only be universal in extent but also eternal in duration.

The first empire is depicted by the golden head of the image, 2. 32, and the lion-like beast with eagles’ wings arising out of the sea, 7. 4. This is positively identified as the Babylonian kingdom, for Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, the founder and first king of the Chaldean empire, ‘You are the head of gold’, 2. 38.

The next empire is depicted by the silver arms and breast of the image, 2. 32, and the bearlike second beast, 7. 5. This is identified in the fifth chapter at the death of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, when the Medes captured Babylon, 5. 30. Thus the Medes and Persians ruled the second empire.

The third empire is shown as the bronze loins of the image, 2. 32, and the leopard-like beast, 7. 6. In the eighth chapter we are told that this is the Greek empire. Here the empire of the Medes and Persians is depicted as a ram with two horns, v. 20, being overcome by the he-goat representing Greece, v. 21. The great horn on the he-goat, 8. 21, is Alexander the Great, founder and first king of the Greek empire. The four heads of the leopard-like beast, 7. 6, and the four horns of the hegoat, 8. 8, and the four winds of heaven, 11. 4, picture the fourfold division of the Greek empire after the death of Alexander, 8. 22. His four leading generals each ruled over a part of the now divided empire. Antipater ruled over Macedonia and Greece, Antigonus ruled over Western Asia, Seleucus ruled over Syria and Ptolemy ruled over Egypt.

Seleucus founded a dynasty in Syria referred to as the kings of the north, 11. 6, being to the north of the Holy Land. Ptolemy founded a dynasty in Egypt referred to as the kings of the south, 11. 5, being to the south of the Holy Land.

Out of the northern dynasty would arise a great king, portrayed as a little horn, 8. 9; 11. 25. This was Antiochus IV, self-styled as Theos Epiphanes, the manifest god, but more accurately nicknamed by his subjects as Epiphanes the madman! He would attack the Jews, capture the temple and cause the sacrifices to cease being offered for 1,150 days, 8. 9-14, 23-26; 11. 31. But the Jews, led by the priestly family of the Hasmoneans, popularly known as the Maccabees, obtained a measure of independence, which was to last until the Roman period, 11. 32-35.

The fourth empire, represented by the legs of iron, 2. 33, and the fourth beast with ten horns, 7. 7, is not identified by Daniel, but is identified by the apostle John. Speaking of the same ten-horned beast that arises out of the sea, Rev. 13. 1, he identifies its seven heads with the seven hills upon which Rome is built, Rev. 17. 9. It was left to John, who was contemporary with the fourth world empire, to identify it as Rome.

But great as it was, even the Roman Empire was to pass away, dividing into many nations. This phase is depicted by the ten toes of the image, 2. 33, and the ten horns of the fourth beast, 7. 7b, and 24. This period is described, ‘And as you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom … they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay’, 2. 41-43. Never again would the nations of the world be united in a single empire under one rule. Napoleon, Hitler and the Communists have tried and failed.

Arising out of these many nations is another little horn who as ruler of three nations would aspire to a triple crown, 7. 8, 20- 26. His rule would have a religious as well as a political aspect, see v. 25. The little horn is to be identified with Paul’s ‘man of lawlessness’, 2 Thess. 2. 3, (‘man of sin’ AV). Compare 2 Thessalonians 2. 3-4 with Daniel 7. 25. Also, no doubt, to be identified with John’s antichrist in 1 John 2. 18, i.e., one who usurps the place of Christ. Most Christians in the past have considered the little horn to be the papacy, whereas today many Christians believe him to be a yet future apocalyptic figure. But what is germane to our present subject, although great in authority, he will not ultimately succeed in his bid for power, but will be destroyed. ‘His dominion shall be taken away’, 7. 26.

The universal and permanent rule over the nations of the world, to which all have aspired and failed to attain, is now given by God to the One He has chosen. ‘I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed’, 7. 13-14. This is the ‘Son of Man’ exercising a power of heavenly origin, 2. 34, 44-45.

But why the long delay of centuries and millennia before God brings in His kingdom on earth? The book of Daniel provides the answer to this question. The most remarkable prophecy of the book concerns the seventy weeks, sevens of years, that is a period of 490 years, 9. 24-27. Four hundred and eighty three years after the edict to rebuild Jerusalem, ‘an anointed one’, i.e., Messiah in Hebrew, or Christ in Greek, will come, bringing with Him a covenant, being offered to the Jews for seven years. In the midst of this period, after three and a half years, the Christ would invalidate the temple ritual of sacrifices. The letter given to Ezra in BC458 led to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Ezra 7. 11, note verse 18; 4. 7-23. Four hundred and eighty three years later, our Lord was anointed by the Holy Spirit and began His public ministry of three and a half years in AD 26, then atoning for iniquity by His death, v. 24.

All the political movements recorded and prophesied in the book of Daniel form the background to the events flowing from that atoning death upon the cross. It was the Babylonian empire that chastened God’s people and cured them of idolatry for ever. So they were able, before the Messiah’s advent, to plant the knowledge of the true God among the Gentiles in their synagogues across the world.

It was the Persian Empire which brought Israel back to their own land, and the worship of God took fresh root under its protection.

It was the Greek Empire that filled the world with Greek culture and above all the Greek language, which was to become the universal vehicle for the good news of salvation. Our New Testament was written in Greek. It was the Roman empire which destroyed all political and national barriers and bound the nations together with roads and sea routes. This enabled the gospel to spread unhindered and churches were rapidly established on a worldwide scale, so ensuring the permanence of Christianity.

The further delay, after the eclipse of Rome until the advent of Christ’s earthly kingdom, has been caused by the very grace of God. ‘The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come’, 2 Pet. 3. 9-10. The good news of the Messiah’s first advent and the resulting salvation has been calling out a people for God for the last 2000 years, Dan. 12. 3.

The supreme message of the book of Daniel is that the Son of Man has been appointed by God to rule the world, and all human efforts to attain that honour are doomed to failure.

When our Lord stood on trial those accusing Him failed in their efforts to incriminate Him. ‘Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none’, Matt. 26. 59. Our Lord was silent. The high priest in desperation said, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God’, Matt. 26. 63. Now, having been so adjured, the Lord was bound by law to answer. His reply was given in a quotation from the book of Daniel, clearly understood by all present, vv. 65-68. The Lord said, ‘But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven’, quoting Daniel 7. 13. The immediate reason for our Lord’s crucifixion was His claim to be the Son of Man, God’s appointed Ruler over the nations.

John the apostle looked forward in vision to the universal revelation of this event at the second advent of Christ. ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever’, Rev 11. 15. We all say, ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus’.


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