Thursday, February 2, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 26, Daniel's Vision

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 26
Daniel's Vision

The Lord Jesus called Daniel a prophet in Matthew 24:15. The book of Daniel appears in our Bibles right in the middle of the books known as "the prophets", and rightly so. He received his visions in an unusual way, most often through his own dream or that of others, but he was no less a prophet than any other in the Scriptures.

We were told he had his first vision during the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon. The second one took place about two years later. "In the third year of King Belshazzar's reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal." (Daniel 8:1-2) Some historians believe Susa was not under Babylonian control at the time, but Daniel is not literally there in the flesh and only sees himself there in the vision. Susa was the ancient capital of the Elamites and would become the capital city of the Persians in the nation of Babylon. Since Daniel's vision regards the Persian and Greek empires, it's fitting he should see himself at the future capital rather than at the current one. By the time the events in the book of Esther take place, we find the Persian king ruling from Susa.

"I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later." (Daniel 8:3) Archaeological artifacts dating from the time of the Persian Empire depict the images of rams on coins and on headdresses. Daniel sees the empire as a ram with two horns, representing the alliance of the Medes and the Persians. The longer horn symbolizes the Persians, who came to power later than the Medes but whose power surpassed that of the Medes. 

"I watched the ram as it charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great." (Daniel 8:4) The major battle campaigns of the Medo-Persian Empire were to the west, north, and south. None of the kingdoms of those territories were able to withstand the onslaught of such a powerful army.

"As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground." (Daniel 8:5) In Chapter 7 the Greek Empire had four wings on its back, symbolizing its swift rise to power. Alexander the Great swooped in from the west, charging against the Medo-Persian Empire, conquering it in several decisive battles even though Alexander's troops were vastly outnumbered. Daniel sees this king coming so swiftly it seems as if his feet don't touch the ground.

"It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven." (Daniel 8:6-8) At the height of his power, following some very heavy partying, Alexander fell ill with a fever and died several days later at the age of thirty-three. Some accounts say he was sick for ten days, others say twelve, but there is no doubt he died in the prime of his life and in the prime of his empire. After his death, his generals divided the kingdom into four. So we see his horn broken off and four horns coming up in its place, as in Daniel's vision.

"Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land." (Daniel 8:9) The Beautiful Land is Israel and this horn is one that will persecute the Jews. Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Daniel: The Preacher's Commentary, says of this passage, "One of the four horns (or divisions) of the Alexandrian Empire was that of Syria, which was governed by one of Alexander's generals, Seleucus Nicantor, progenitor of the Seluicid dynasty. Antiochus Epiphanes emerged within this dynasty bearing all the demonic characteristics of the little horn of Daniel's vision." He is speaking here of the little horn from Daniel's vision in Chapter 7, the little horn (the Antichrist of the end times) that boasted itself against God and was destroyed by Him, after which the eternal kingdom of Christ began. Antiochus Epiphanes was a form of antichrist in the ancient world. This is Antiochus IV, formerly known as Mithridates, who assumed power by declaring himself co-regent with the infant heir to the throne, later murdering this child and taking the crown for himself. He then added to his name the word "epiphanes" which means "god made manifest", proclaiming himself to be Zeus in the flesh. He persecuted the Jews unmercifully after a rumor went out that he was dead and the deposed high priest at Jerusalem, named Jason, led a charge against Menelaus who had been appointed high priest by Antiochus. Antiochus believed the Jews were in full revolt and he brought the force of his power down on them, slaughtering forty thousand men, women, and children. He then sold another forty thousand into slavery.

Antiochus forbade the Jews to practice their religion and commanded them to worship his god Zeus, the god he claimed to be a manifestation of. He ordered them to stop bringing sacrifice and offering to the Lord at the temple. He eventually set up an image of Zeus in the temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar to desecrate it. He took articles from the temple and burned copies of the Torah. As we discussed yesterday, if Satan cannot entice mankind to openly worship him, he will give mankind something or someone to worship in place of God. Kings have commanded worship for themselves or for their gods throughout history. We have often attributed this to their overweening egos, but behind this lurks the gigantic ego of Satan himself and his desire to be worshiped in place of God. He disguises himself. He masquerades. Since the beginning of time, many citizens of the earth have bowed to kings and to idols, believing they were declaring their allegiance to a leader or to the gods, when in truth they were bowing to Satan. 

Daniel says of Antiochus, the horn that persecutes the Jews, "It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and His sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord's people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground." (Daniel 8:11-12) We can see why Daniel wrote the account of his second vision following the account of his first vision. In the first he saw the literal Antichrist; in the second he saw a little antichrist, a forerunner of the exceedingly wicked one who is to come in the last days. History has seen a number of little antichrists. Adolf Hitler is a good example of one of these. All have been under the influence of Satan (whether they knew it or not), and Satan is the one who will presumably indwell the man of lawlessness of the last days. Just as the little antichrist known as Antiochus persecuted God's people, so also will Antichrist. Just as the little antichrist desecrated the temple and set up an image to be worshiped, so will Antichrist. Just as the little antichrist referred to himself as a god in the flesh, so will Antichrist. Just as the little antichrist trampled the holy city and its people underfoot for a time, so will Antichrist.

"Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, 'How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled---the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord's people?' He said to me, 'It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.'" (Daniel 8:13-14) If these are literal days they would add up to nearly seven years of persecution. Some scholars count the "evenings and mornings" as the number of daily sacrifices that were missed. Since there would be two per day, this gives a calculation of 1,150 days, indicating a time period of just over three years. There has been much debate over these numbers and whether to take them literally, but we see a correlation here between the time period when the true Antichrist will be in power (the seven years of the Great Tribulation) and of the time period when the persecution by the Antichrist will be in full swing and he will desecrate the temple and set himself up as a god (three and a half years). 

We can see why God gave Daniel a vision of the end times and Christ's eternal kingdom before giving him this vision of a terrible time to come for the Jews. I think Daniel needed the encouragement of knowing everything works out in the end. I'm not sure he could have withstood this second vision if he hadn't gained hope from the first. Even knowing that God's people will inherit the kingdom, when we get to the end of this second vision in tomorrow's study we will find that Daniel was so troubled and exhausted by it that he had to lie in bed for several days to recover. He will say he was appalled by the vision.

If God had not given us the hope of eternal life in Christ we would be, as the Apostle Paul says, "of all men most miserable". (1 Corinthians 15:19) The darkness and turmoil of this world would overpower us. But instead we worship the One who overcame the world, who made us co-heirs with Him, and who will share His eternal kingdom with us.

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