Friday, February 3, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 27, The Interpretation Of The Vision

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 27
The Interpretation Of The Vision

Daniel had a vision involving a ram and a goat, symbolizing two ancient world powers. A fearsome king would arise from the remnants of the goat's kingdom and he would persecute God's people. Daniel is puzzled. The kingdom of Babylon is on the downswing, but he doesn't understand the meaning of the conquering ram and goat or the sinful man who will be an enemy of God and of His people. "While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man's voice from the Ulai calling, 'Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.'" (Daniel 8:15-16)

One "who looked like a man" appears before Daniel. In the Scriptures the angels look like humans when they make appearances, leading some to "entertain angels unaware", not knowing they were angels. (Hebrews 13:2) In this case Daniel senses there is something special about the one standing before him. He knows this being looks like a man but is not a man. Then he hears a voice commanding this being to explain the vision to him. Since Gabriel is such a high-ranking angel, (the one who will later be tasked with the privilege of telling Mary she will be the mother of God's Son), I think it's likely that this voice belongs to God. Some scholars believe the voice may belong to the pre-incarnate Christ, and that is also possible.

"As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. 'Son of man,' he said to me, 'understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.' While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet." (Daniel 8:17-18) Gabriel calls Daniel ben adam: human being. Daniel is not the only prophet to be addressed this way; the prophet Ezekiel was also. When applied to the Lord Jesus the title is capitalized, emphasizing both His humanity and His deity. Daniel is so overcome by this visitation that he faints, but Gabriel touches him and strengthens him so that he can stand. Some cultures and denominations give the ministry of angels too much emphasis while others do not give them enough credit. The angels are used as messengers of God and as servants of mankind. They minister to us, attending to us just as they attended to Christ after His forty difficult days in the wilderness. They strengthen us just as they strengthened Christ in His night of distress in the garden before the crucifixion. 

"He said: 'I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end." (Daniel 8:19) Like many prophecies of the Bible, the one found in Daniel's vision is twofold. Yesterday we studied Antiochus Ephiphanes, persecutor of the Jews, who was a "little Antichrist". The day before that we studied the man of lawlessness of the last days, the actual Antichrist. These two are connected because the same spirit of wickedness is at work in them. The same spirit that yearns to be worshiped in place of God, and that blasphemes the name of all that is holy, and that hates believers is found in both these rulers. 

"The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between its eyes is the first king. 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." (Daniel 8:20-22) The empire of Alexander the Great was divided into four by his generals following his death at the young age of thirty-three. These four did not have the same power that Alexander wielded, but from one of these divisions rose the Seleucid Empire and Antiochus who attained the throne through murder.

There is some disagreement among scholars as to whether the remainder of Chapter 8 regards only Antiochus Epiphanes or whether it encompasses both his wicked reign and that of the Antichrist. I tend to agree with the latter interpretation. I think Chapter 8 takes us on up to the time when the rock not cut with hands smashes all the kingdoms of the world and establishes an eternal kingdom. (Daniel 2:44-45) I think Chapter 8 shows us both the death of Antiochus by God's hands and the judgment and punishment of the Antichrist by God's hands. Mystery surrounds the death of Antiochus and the location of his tomb is not known. Some ancient accounts state he was suddenly afflicted with a horribly painful physical ailment; others claim he became unhinged in his mind and died in a state of madness. The Jews actually changed his name (among themselves) to Antiochus Epimanes which means "madman". 

"In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise." (Daniel 8:23) The historical fulfillment of this is found in Antiochus Ephiphanes, who emerged in the latter part of the reign of the four divisions of Alexander's kingdom. The idea of rebels having become completely wicked may indicate sin having reached such a limit that God steps in. In the Bible we find other instances of God waiting for the cup of sin to be full before He steps in and cuts off wickedness. In Genesis 15:16 the Lord sent Israel into Egypt until the sins of the Amorites reached their full measure, at which time He would command Israel to drive the Amorites out. The Lord speaks of the cup of His wrath in Job 21:20, Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15, Revelation 14:10 and Revelation 16:19. These references suggest to us that there is a tipping point, a day in which the cup is filled and the consequences of that sin are meted out upon the offender. The acts of Antiochus were so wicked that he reached the tipping point and God stepped in and changed the course of history, taking this sinful man out of the way. The acts of the Antichrist will culminate in him persecuting believers and actually waging war against the Lamb of God. The Lord will then pour out the cup of wrath on the one who has tormented mankind since the Garden of Eden, cutting him off forever. 

Gabriel tells Daniel of the Greek king who will overthrow many and of the lawless man of the end times. "He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power." (Daniel 8:24-25) Satan's battle has always been against God, but since he cannot harm God, he seeks to harm God's people. His is the spirit that thinks itself superior even to God. His is the spirit that causes deceit to prosper on the earth. In the last days, when Antichrist brokers a peace deal, God's people will feel secure, but that is when the evil man will strike. He will persecute God's people as never before, but that is when God will say, "Enough! The cup of My wrath is full and I am about to pour it out on the enemy of mankind's souls." The evil one will be destroyed, not by human hands, but by the One whose hands were nailed to the cross for us.

The angel concludes, "The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given to you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future." (Daniel 8:26) Daniel stood in a place in history from which he could not possibly fathom the enormity of God's plan. He is told to seal the prophecy. But in the book of Revelation, which is actually a companion book of Daniel, the Apostle John is told not to seal the prophecy. (Revelation 22:10) The book of Revelation unlocks the book of Daniel. Only after the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ could Daniel's prophecies be understood. So in the church age the Lord tells John not to seal his book. In the church age the time is at hand. Nothing remains to be fulfilled before Christ takes His bride out of the world. We are living on borrowed time, with the clock of this world winding down, and so the Lord doesn't want the book of John's prophecies sealed. The Lord wants the book of Daniel unlocked by the book of Revelation. Time is short. The cup of God's wrath against wickedness is almost full. 

Daniel's human body is exhausted by these revelations. "I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king's business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding." (Daniel 8:27) These prophecies are now no longer beyond understanding and we must do what Daniel did: get up and be about our King's business. Time is short and we must work while we can. Our work is kingdom work and while there is time we are to bring as many into the kingdom with us as we can, sharing the gospel of Christ and showing His love to a world that is dying for love and acceptance and mercy. I hope I can fulfill these duties even half as well as Daniel fulfilled them. What a wonderful example Daniel is of how to live a life of purpose!

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