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"God's Serene Sovereignty"


Read Daniel 7:1-28

          As we continue in our study of the Old Testament book of Daniel, this week we return to chapter seven. Last week you’ll recall we explained the main elements of the graphic, even hideous apocalyptic imagery of this vision God gave to Daniel.  We saw that this chapter, like chapter two, relates in this vivid imagery four human empires that have appeared on the scene of history.  The vision in chapter seven pictures these kingdoms as beasts that emerge in succession out of the great sea.  The dominant view as to what these symbols represent are  in order: the Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar, the Medo-Persian kingdom established by King Cyrus, the Grecian Empire brought about by the conquests of Alexander the Great and the fourth and most dominant empire, the Roman Empire that grew out of the Grecian Empire. 

This chapter and others in Scriptures also seem to teach that this prophecy of the fourth beastly empire has another, future fulfillment through a final corrupt tyrant known as the antichrist.  That part of the vision pictures a great persecution to be unleashed on the people of God.  The message that emerges from this vision is the certainty of God’s sovereign rule in the midst of these dominions and his ultimate response to these kingdoms and in particular, the persecution of his people.  We delved into that in much greater detail last week, but that is a summary of the broad meaning of the vision in chapter seven.

          This chapter is particularly powerful in displaying many facets of his sovereignty.  One characteristic of God’s sovereignty seen in this chapter we looked at last week.  We saw three ways this chapter teaches us that God’s sovereign rule is absolute in spite of circumstances that can often communicate utter chaos and a seeming absence of any external controlling influence like God. That is, in the midst of the utter wickedness and apparent chaos seen in this fallen world’s cruelty, God is secretly working within the darkness to accomplish his ultimately good purposes. As Cowper says, “Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.”

          This morning we will be looking at two more of the facets or characteristics of God’s sovereign reign in the midst of this world’s circumstances.   The first facet of his sovereignty is seen in the fact that God’s reign on earth is executed in the serenity of his omnipotence.  This chapter shows us that when the world is in the midst of its absolute darkest hour, God’s reign is not marked by worry or agitation or frustration or even exceptional urgency, but is instead pictured in this chapter as serene or at least “business as usual.”  We get a unique perspective on the nature of God’s serene sovereignty in this chapter because the vision in verses 9-14 takes us into the very heavenly dwelling of God.  After the first three beastly kingdoms have left the stage of world domination and in the midst of the fourth, most brutal kingdom, that part of the vision is temporarily interrupted. 

          We must see the context into which this next part of the chapter is inserted.  The throne room part of the vision occurs immediately after the “little horn” is introduced in verse eight.  This is the ruler with “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”  We see the power and savagery of this global wrecking machine in verse seven.  There it says that it is, “…terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong.  It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet.”  Whether speaking of the past or future fulfillment of this prophecy, this man is clearly the arch-villain of the drama—the one to whom the other tyrants ultimately point.  We get even more specific detail on the context of the throne room scene in verse 21 as the angel begins to interpret the vision to Daniel.  There it says, “As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them…” 

That is—his persecution of them is quite effective. They are either bowing to his godless demands to renounce their true King, or if they refuse to do that, they are summarily taken out of the way. This clarifies that it is the saints of God who are the main course for this beast with the iron teeth.  Christ’s church is part of what is being brutally “devoured and broken and stamped” upon!  The saints who currently live in places like the Sudan, or who have lived under communist persecution have no trouble believing that evil empires can indeed prevail over the saints in this way.  It has happened throughout history; it is happening currently, and will doubtless happen in the future as this text indicates. 

We get some idea of just how horrific this scene is by looking at Daniel’s response to it.  Now, remember how Daniel is presented in the first six chapters of the book.  In the midst of earth-shattering crisis after crisis, Daniel is consistently portrayed as the man of faith who unwaveringly prays and trusts and waits upon God—in the midst of the lion’s den—in the face of his own execution as a teenager, as he confronts mighty kings with the truth of their own imminent condemnation.  Daniel is seen without exception in the first half of the book as one cool customer. This man is extraordinarily hard to rattle.  That is why it is all the more startling when we see how he is pictured in THIS chapter as God reveals these events to him.  In verse 15 he writes that in the face of this revelation—even before it was fully revealed to him, “my spirit within me was anxious and the visions of my head alarmed me.”  The conclusion of the chapter gives us another window on Daniel’s mental and emotional state in response to this vision.  He says, “As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed…”  Daniel is so devastated by what he sees; the color drains right out of his face.

          The point for our discussion is that it is just at this moment, when the vision reveals the brash and arrogant lawlessness of this “little horn” brutally persecuting the people of God, that the scene abruptly switches to this heavenly throne room of God.  It’s at THAT moment in this cosmic drama that we read in verse nine, “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat…  In verse 10 it continues, “…the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”  Do you see the contrast first, between how God processes all this and Daniel?  Second, do you see the polar opposite tone communicated through the comparatively serene, business-as-usual context of this heavenly scene, as over against the chaos and bedlam and mayhem that is erupting on earth under the boot of this fourth kingdom?  The world is exploding in violence. The church is being mauled as this fourth tyrant moves in for the kill and God is calmly having his royal court room made ready.  The point of the thrones is to symbolize God’s reign as the King of all dominions in heaven and on earth.  When Daniel records that “the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened,” That’s clearly a judicial setting.  God has a record of all the atrocities and sins of the beast and those with him and he is preparing for his judgment upon this dominion and its haughty tyrant.

          Don’t miss the irony there.  This is not a war room where God maps out a strategy to defeat his enemies.  This is a court room where he will pass judgment on them.  Notice that God is not just any Judge.  He prepares his court room BEFORE the offenders are even apprehended.  God can do that because he has an infallible record of every offense against Himself and humanity.  The point for us is--though God’s justice over the evils of this world at times seems to us delayed, God knows just when to set up the court room and once his court convenes, justice is swiftly dispensed.  Immediately after it says the books were opened, verse 11 continues, “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking.  And as I looked, the beast was killed, its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.”  The two verses present a very clear picture.  In God’s timing, the damning evidence is presented, the Ancient of Days renders his verdict and this wicked king is cut down immediately--right in the middle of one of his haughty speeches.

          This scene reminds us of the picture of God’s judgment of his enemies in Psalm two.   

“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, 3"Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."  4He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”  While the world’s combined military might is being directed against God and his purposes, he sits in heaven and laughs in derision.  The Biblical record is clear—there is no hand-wringing in heaven—no anxiety, no confusion or alarms going off in God’s throne room—just a comparatively serene picture of a process that will in God’s timing unfold the eternal judgment on the wicked.  For those of us who would question why God chooses to delay his judgment on the wicked, again we can only by God’s grace declare in faith with Cowper, “God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain.”

          A second facet of God’s sovereign rule is also seen primarily in this throne room scene and that is:  God’s sovereignty is express through a plurality.  In this text, we see three distinct sources of God’s rule expressed through three distinct conduits.  The first source of his sovereign rule is seen in verse nine as we read earlier, “the Ancient of days took his seat.” This title “the Ancient of days” is interesting because it is only used of God three times and all three times occur in this chapter.  This title literally means simply, “one advanced in years.”   Tragically, this title for God has lost some of its power for us who live in a culture where old age is not respected as it is in the Eastern world, particularly the Ancient Near East.  In our culture the expression “advanced in years” conjures up notions of frailty; of people well “past their prime” and who are not able to be of much use.  In the Biblical world, to be advanced in years was to be greatly respected and revered and to have your counsel sought on any important question.  This is a picture of a venerable, august and wise Ruler.  God as the Ancient of Days conveys the notion of someone with the wisdom of eternity, but who is in no way debilitated by his “advanced years.”  This is the only Judge equipped to judge the eternal destiny of the wicked.  He “takes his seat” which means among other things, HE is in charge here—the judicial proceedings begin at his command.  The court doesn’t convene until he sits down and without him no judgments are made.  This is a powerful picture of God’s sovereign control. 

          The graphic description of God in these verses tells more about him than the title itself.  The description is in two parts.  The first part is in verse nine where we read “his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool.”  These references to the astonishing brightness of God are not unique to Daniel.  They are in fact used to speak of Jesus in verses like Matthew 28:3 where the newly resurrected Jesus is described. “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” Likewise, when the apostle John meets Jesus in the book of the Revelation, he says of the glorified Christ in 1:14, “The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,”  John and Matthew very intentionally borrow that language from texts like this one describing the Father, not only to describe what they saw, but also to make a direct reference to the fact that Jesus is God and therefore has God-like qualities.  In this case, the imagery speaks of God’s utter holiness and moral impeccability.  There is no stain upon this holy God—there is nothing—not a single moral imperfection.

          The second part of the description centers around God’s throne and the surrounding scene.  Verses nine and 10 say, “his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.  A stream of fire issued and came out before him.”  God is pictured as an incendiary Judge.  His throne itself is pictured as “fiery flames” and that is consistent with his own blazing appearance.   This image of God (and that is all it is because as we know God is spirit and has no physical features) is well known in Scripture.  Isaiah 33:14 says, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: "Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?"  That speaks of the holiness of God’s character that makes him highly combustible in his opposition to all sin.  This chapter describes his judgment of the wicked and his appearance as fire symbolizing to his napalm-like, incendiary hatred of sin.  This picture of the blazing fire of God is intended to induce fear in the hearts of those who oppose God and it is seen in both Testaments.

          The author of Hebrews chapter 12, as a warning to Christ’s church says, “ Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  29for our God is a consuming fire.”  God burns in the presence of all unrepentant sin—whether the world’s or the church.  God is not “safe” around unrepentant sin—his holy nature burns white hot against it.  Only the patience of his mercy keeps him from instantly breaking out against the world’s sin and only his loving mercy that we in Christ’s church have received through the cross keeps us safe from the Everlasting Burning.  We must never lose sight of this element of God’s character as we are tempted to tolerate or even cavalierly play around with habitual sin in our lives.  It is no coincidence that the many judgment scenes pictured in the gospels and the Revelation speak of fire. There is a sense in which God will not only not be absent in the fires of hell—he IS the fire of hell. 

          A second expression of God’s sovereign rule is seen in verses 13-14.  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.  14And to him was given dominion and glory and a 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.”  The language communicates that this is a heavenly court scene as this One “like a son of man” is formally presented to the Ancient of Days as he sits on his throne.  There are manifestly two separate Persons here and One conveys to the Other this everlasting dominion.  That is—he transfers the sovereign authority of this kingdom from himself to the Son of Man. 

          This title “son of man” is a fascinating designation. It is an idiom or expression that simply means “man” or “human being.”  God repeatedly calls Ezekiel by this title.  Yet, this is also by far the favorite title Jesus used for himself—82 times this title is used for Jesus and 80 of those are found on the lips of Jesus.  We could spend weeks on this one title as it relates to its New Testament application to Jesus—it is so rich in significance and is especially poignant in this season when we celebrate the incarnation when God became man.  This is THE self-identifying title Christ used for himself.  Though it is drenched with messianic symbolism, it was just ambiguous enough that it did not attract criticism.  He uses it to describe himself in his earthly ministry, his suffering, and his future glory.  We see the latter in places like Matthew 26:64 where Jesus says, “…I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."

            There is little doubt that as Jesus used this designation of himself as the Son of Man, he had in mind this glorious picture in Daniel chapter seven of the Son of Man who receives the kingdom from the Ancient of Days.  In the Ancient of days, we see God the Father having the everlasting dominion who then gives it to God the Son as the Son of Man.  As we look for the final recipient of this authority, our first inclination may be to look for the Person of the Holy Spirit to complete the Trinitarian transfer—from the Father to the Son to the Holy Spirit.  But that’s not the way this plays out.  Verse 17 says, “These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth.  But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.”  We see this truth again stressed in verse 27.  And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”

          The saints of God will share in the reign of this kingdom with Jesus.  As amazing as that may sound to us, it is really a fairly prevalent theme of Scripture.  We see it in other texts like Second Timothy 2:12 where Paul tells Timothy, “if we endure, we will also reign with him…”  We will reign with Christ.  Twice in the letters to the seven churches Christ makes this same promise.  In Revelation 2:26 to the church at Thyatira Jesus promises, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,”  That speaks of a sovereignty over the nations that God will give to his people.  Finally and most pertinent to this chapter is what Jesus says to the church at Laodicea in 3:21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  There is the plural sovereignty of these three again.  The Father is sovereign and passes the kingdom to the Son, who then shares it with his people forever and forever and ever.

          The question is—why?  Why would Jesus share the reign over this earth with the redeemed humans?  It’s not all that surprising when you think about one of the goals of redemption.  Who originally had authority over planet earth?  God, first as Creator, but then he gave it to humans.  Adam and Eve ruled with God as his human vice regents over his creation.  What Daniel is picturing in this transfer of sovereignty from Jesus to the church is simply the completion of this part of God’s plan for redemptive history.  Adam and Eve fell and humanity lost our delegated piece of this sovereignty, but God’s champion, the second Adam, the God MAN Jesus came as a man to win it back.  We must understand that Jesus did NOT come to this earth to win back GOD’S sovereign authority over this planet for Him—HE never lost it!  Jesus came to win it back for us!  When the final harvest of God’s people is brought in from every nation and all remaining remnants of sin that entered this world in the fall are judged, THEN the kingdom will be returned to those for whom God intended it in the first place—humanity, with Jesus Christ the Son of Man as the King of all kings—we are a ROYAL (and reigning) priesthood serving with our King, Jesus. 

       Not only will the saints reign with Him, but as those with whom he shares his reign, we will also judge alongside him.  Revelation 20:4 says, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed…”  That speaks of saints who have been given the delegated authority from Christ to judge.  Paul also says as much in First Corinthians chapter six.  He says to the church there, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  3Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!”  Daniel seven shows the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan for fallen humanity as they are restored to reign and judge with Christ.

       Here are three responses to this astounding set of truths.  First—marvel at God and worship him in response to his matchless wisdom and grace in the gospel.  We must never forget that this retrieval of our reign with Christ came at an exquisite cost to God.  Before the Ancient of Days transferred the sovereign rule to the Son of Man, he had to first crush him in the blazing fire of his sin-hating wrath at Calvary.  Jesus paid for our souls, our eternities and the opportunity for us to share his realm with him at the cost of his own blood. We will never understand all this, so just accept it and respond to it by giving yourself back to God in worship as a living sacrifice through which he can shine through.

       Second, live as people who are destined to inherit this reign.  In First Corinthians chapter six, the ground of Paul’s argument against the Corinthians taking each other to court is their identity in Christ as future judges of this world.  The broad message is—allow the truth of who you are in Christ and the eternal significance of his work in you to shape the way you live today.  Paul’s argument is, "Don’t you know who you are?” The next time you are tempted to yell at your spouse or insult someone behind their back—the next time you try to silence an argument by simply increasing your volume remember who you are—you are destined to reign and judge with Christ.  Who we are and who we have been re-created in Christ to be should profoundly impact what we do.  Be who you are.  Live like a person who will forever, forever and ever share the throne of Christ.

       Third, in light of the fact that our God is a consuming fire, warn others with the fire-retarding gospel of Christ.  Never forget that those lost people around you, if they do not repent are headed for a confrontation with the consuming fire of God and they will, without fail burn in the fiery wrath of a holy God who breaks out against sin.  How can we say we love them if we do not pray for them and warn them of the holy, sin-hating character of the Ancient of Days?  Though the beasts of this world's kingdoms will prevail for a season over the saints in this life, we will spend eternity in glory sharing the throne of Christ.  The lost will be spared the persecution of the church but will however be forced to endure the justice meted out by the One who sits in the heavens and laughs at all rebellion against Him.  The good news is that before he lets out that one final derisive laugh, he through his church holds out to them his blood-stained Son of Man.  In light of all this, may God give us the grace to live as God’s blazing light to this world for his glory.


Page last modified on 1/14/2007

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