Sunday School 03 04 2013

 

“Daniel’s Vision of Change”

Lesson Text: Daniel 7:9-14

Background Scripture: Daniel 7

Devotional Reading: Daniel 6:25-28

 

Daniel 7:1-3, 9-14 (KJV)

1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.

2 Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.

3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.

9 I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.

10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

11 I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.

12 As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.

13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

 

OBJECTIVES

To recognize that God is building a kingdom that will never be destroyed.

To understand that ultimately, the future course of our lives falls under the rule of God.

To put our hope in the “Ancient of days.”

 

INTRODUCTION

That’s Just the Way It Is

While millions of people struggle to feed their families, professional athletes receive millions to move a ball and score points in a televised game. While innovative thinkers with life-improving ideas cannot gain a public hearing, the masses tune in daily to hours of mindless entertainment media. While innocent people fear for their safety and livelihood, the wicked profit from the vulnerable and strut arrogantly without a care.

This is nothing new. The earliest humans observed the wicked thriving and the righteous barely surviving. Some will say, “Get over it—that’s life.” It is enough to make one cynical, to make us give up on the idea of a better world.

We can get stuck in mental ruts, and when we do, we need to be jarred out of this world’s “reality” and into God’s reality. We need Jesus to remind us again that the poor in spirit have the kingdom, the meek inherit the earth, the merciful receive mercy, the pure see God, and the peacemakers are considered His children (Matthew 5:3-9).

Long before Jesus issued that mountaintop reality check, the prophet Daniel opened the eyes of Jews in the sixth century BC so they could see what God was and would be doing. What Daniel saw was the ultimate triumph that God’s followers today still long to see. It therefore has power to spare us the cynicism that can so easily ensnare.

 

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LESSON BACKGROUND

Time: 533 B.C.

 Place: Babylon

 Daniel was one of the prominent Jews from Jerusalem who were taken to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1-7). There were several deportations (compare Jeremiah 52:28). The fact that Daniel was taken in one of the early ones indicates that he was considered to be among the cream of the crop of the Israelite people.

During the exile, Daniel and other Jews struggled to understand what God was doing in the world. Why were the wicked Babylonians thriving while God’s people, who were not nearly as wicked, suffered? Had God given up on the Jewish people? Did they have a future worth waiting for and praying for?

Some Jews conspired to take matters into their own hands (compare Jeremiah 41). They believed that the best way to push forward was to rebel against the Babylonians. They did not believe the prophesies of Habakkuk, Jeremiah, and others that God had decided to allow the Babylonians to triumph over the Israelites for their unfaithfulness. They did not comprehend that God would indeed punish the Babylonians for their own wickedness.

Other Jews gave up altogether. They stopped following Israel’s God and turned to false gods. They assumed that if their God was the one true God, then they should always triumph over their enemies. To them, Babylon’s victory over Israel was a victory of Babylon’s gods over Israel’s God (compare Jeremiah 44:18). Why worship a losing deity? So they transferred allegiance.

During times of such confusion, the Israelites needed a word from God to set the record straight. One such word came from Daniel.

 

Visions Begin (Daniel 7:1-3)

1. What can we learn from the written details of Daniel’s dream (Daniel 7:1)?

It is important to note which Babylonian king is reigning when Daniel has this dream. Two Babylonian kings are named in the book of Daniel: Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. (Darius, a third king, is “the Median” by nationality in 5:31). Nebuchadnezzar reigned first, from about 605 to 562 BC. He was the one who destroyed Jerusalem and took many Jews into exile. The Babylonians seemed to realize that this was God’s doing, but the Israelites did not (see Jeremiah 40:1-3).

Nebuchadnezzar is presented in Daniel as a king who has his own selfish agenda, but also as a king who is capable of respecting the true God (Daniel 4:34, 35). Belshazzar (Nebuchadnezzar’s son, 5:2), who begins reigning about 553 B.C., is presented less favorably. He is depicted as an arrogant king who mocks God by toying with the sacred Jerusalem temple vessels (5:2-4). God’s response to such irreverence is not to humble Belshazzar as He did Nebuchadnezzar, but to bring him to deadly justice (5:18-30).

This is important because some world rulers whom God’s people face after Daniel’s day will be like Nebuchadnezzar, and others will be like Belshazzar. It is thus fitting that Daniel has his vision during the reign of Belshazzar, a vision about a future arrogant king whom God will bring to deadly justice.

2. What specific imagery did Daniel mention in his dream (vs. 2-3)?

The restless sea is a frequent biblical image for the nations of the world (Isa. 17:12-13; 57:20; 60:5; Ezek. 26:3; Rev. 13:1; 17:15). Just as the ocean is sometimes stormy, so the nations of the world are sometimes in confusion or even at war; and just as the waves and currents of the ocean are unpredictable, so the course of world history is beyond man's ability to chart or predict.

So when “the four winds of the heaven” struggle upon the great sea in Daniel’s vision, the reader should expect that chaos is brewing (compare Revelation 7:1). Normally, the wind blows from one direction only. The fact that it here blows from all directions may mean that a fearsome whirlpool is forming.

Out of this chaotic sea emerge “four great beasts” (Dan. 7:3), which represent four kings or kingdoms of the earth according to verse 17 (not in today’s text). These beasts are described in greater detail in verses 4-8 (also not in today’s text). Some students identify these four beasts with the empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Not all agree on this identification, however (see further discussion with verse 11, below).

 

Sovereign Lord (Daniel 7:9-10)

3. Who is the “Ancient of days” (Daniel 7:9)?

A scene of judgment came into Daniel’s vision next. Thrones are installed and the judge has taken his seat. The Ancient of days is God, the one who always was and always will be (Revelation 4:8, 9). In this verse, God is portrayed in human form as a revered, prudent, and authoritative judge. The only other place where God the Father is actually seen in the Bible is Revelation 5:1 and 7, but both occurrences are only visions; for God the Father is spirit (John 4:24). Other divine throne-scenes in Scripture include 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6:1-9; Matthew 19:28; and Revelation 4.

That the everlasting God is judge is crucial to this vision. As one who sees everything, God alone can give a completely accurate account of what is really going on in world history. From the perspective of many Jewish exiles, God has lost to the Babylonian gods, and God’s people have no future.

But God is not controlled by what “appears to be.” He is not carried along by the momentum of the day. His hair... like the pure wool testifies to His ancient perspective, the same head of hair and perspective that the exalted Christ is depicted with in Revelation 1:12-16. The garment that is white as snow testifies to His purity. He is not a crooked judge, but is the source of true justice (compare Mark 9:3).

Another key component in this verse is fire. Both the throne and its wheels are aflame. Yet like the burning bush that Moses saw (Exodus 3:2), the fire does not consume the throne or its occupant. Fire is an image of judgment in Scripture. Positively, fire can purify a precious metal like gold; in burning up the impurities, fire brings out true qualities (Zechariah 13:9; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18). Fire consumes what does not last, incinerating what is worthless (compare 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Fire is an instrument of eternal punishment (Deuteronomy 32:22; Matthew 5:22; 2 Peter 3:7).

4. What did the books that were opened pertain to (v. 10)?

The fire that streams from God’s presence likely indicates that He is about to judge. The thousands who surround Him are heavenly beings, or angels. Their vast number testifies to God’s majesty as it does in Revelation 5:11. Daniel 5:1 tells us that Belshazzar has 1,000 nobles who feast in his presence. This impressive number is dwarfed by the multitude that waits on Israel’s God. That these servants are present at this judgment scene also indicates that God has plenty of witnesses both to corroborate His judgment and to carry it out. What He decrees will certainly come to pass.

The books that are opened pertain to judgment. This passage does not specify whether they contain a list of misdeeds according to which the beasts will be judged or whether they indicate the names of those whom God spares judgment and therefore saves. Elsewhere in Scripture, the “book of life” appears to be an indication of who is saved (Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; 22:19). Revelation 20:12 is the strongest parallel to this passage. It is also a judgment scene in which multiple books are opened, including the book of life; persons are judged according to their works as listed in those books.

 

The Slaying of the Beast (Daniel 7:11-12)

5. What was the fate of the fourth beast (Daniel 7:11)?

As Daniel’s dream continued to unfold, he was captivated by the arrogant remarks mouthed by the small horn of the fourth, most terrifying beast (Dan. 7:11). This entity somewhat resembles the beast emerging from sea recorded in Revelation 13:1. That grotesque creature had ten horns and seven heads. On each horn there was a crown, and on each head there was a pretentious name that was an insult to God.

However, we learn more about the fourth beast of our lesson today in verses 19-26. As mentioned above, some students identify this beast and its horns with the Roman Empire, although interpretations vary.

Our primary purpose, however, is not to identify this beast with a particular king or kingdom, but to focus on the kind of force this beast represents. Here we see audacity to speak and act against the one true God and His people. The impact of arrogant beasts (worldly rulers and their kingdoms) on the lives of God’s people is felt during all ages. These beasts defy God Almighty and trample His people. King Belshazzar is neither the first nor the last to do this. Such beasts take many forms throughout history. If we are to resist their devouring ways, we must adopt God’s view, which we get in the verses that follow.

What is most striking about the verse before us is what little effort God expends to strike this beast down. This beast is frighteningly powerful in the experience of those who suffer at its hands. Yet without fuss or fight, God simply slays the beast and burns its remains. When it comes to Israel’s God, this beast is way out of its league. There cannot be a struggle, only instant defeat. God’s people thus have no reason to fear even the most powerful humans. If God is for us, no one can stand against us (Romans 8:31).

What Do You Think?

When a situation turns out much differently from what most expect, how do we evaluate the presence or absence of God at work?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Political elections | Healings | Deliverance from danger | Other

6. What became of the rest of the beasts (v. 12)?

By way of contrast, the other beasts receive considerably less judgment. The Lord had removed the authority belonging to the rest of the beasts Daniel described earlier. Be that as it. May, God permitted them to go on living for a “period of time” (v. 12).

This teaches us something about how God relates to the rulers and kingdoms of this world. All human institutions are fallen, and none is perfect. Their power is on loan from God (Romans 13:1). Some misuse that power so badly that God intervenes to bring them down. Other kings and kingdoms use their power in ways that God is willing to tolerate for a time. All human kingdoms ultimately will be replaced by God’s kingdom. But some human kingdoms are better than others, and God relates to them in different ways.

 

The Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14)

7. Who is the “Son of man?”

Daniel’s vision does not end only with bad news for those who rebel against God. It goes on to announce good news for those who are faithful.

This good news happens when “the Son of man” arrives. This expression refers to the Lord Jesus. This was an expression Jesus used to describe Himself (Matthew 16:27; Mark 8:31, etc.). It also appears in the Gospels about eighty times.

The Son of man “came to the Ancient of days,” and was brought “near before him.” The source of the power of Christ is his oneness with the Father (John 10:30), his dependence on the Father (John 5:19), and his obedience to the Father (Ps. 40:7; Heb. 10:7). 3. It is a gift of God. The other kings seized their power. To the Son of man a dominion is “given.” Christ does not conquer the world by force. He receives his kingdom through the influence of God’s grace and providence on men (John 18:36).

8. Contrast the authority of the Son with that of the fourth beast (v. 14).

The fate of the Son of man is entirely different from that of the arrogant beast. The arrogant beast has dominion over many nations; the Son of man reigns over all nations and all people everywhere. The arrogant beast has power for a brief time; the Son of man rules forever. The arrogant beast is destroyed swiftly; the Son of man’s kingdom shall not be destroyed.

The subjects of the Son of man therefore have nothing to fear. As long as they remain loyal to Him, they will share in a kingdom that is an everlasting dominion. The future is not in doubt, for the Son will bring to pass all that the Father has planned for His people!

What Do You Think?

How does knowing that “God’s people win in the end” affect the way you live right now? What changes do you need to make?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In lifestyle choices | In speech patterns | In relationships | 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

POINTS TO PONDER

1. The invisible winds of God stir the sea of our world to accomplish His will in His time (Daniel 7:1-3).

2. While the Ancient of days always exposes the folly reproachable behavior, He also calls us to be salt and light in such an ungodly environment (Daniel 7:9-12).

3. The Most High rules in the kingdom of men! (Daniel 7:13-14).

CONCLUSION

Ah, But Don’t You Believe Them

Note in today’s Scriptures how world kingdoms end and how God’s kingdom comes: God does it all. God’s people do, however, have an important responsibility: to be God’s heralds and witnesses (Matthew 28:19, 20). Our job is to tell the whole world that our king reigns, that His kingdom will never end, and that He has invited all people to become His subjects.

We must tell the world that while things appear bleak now, appearances can be deceiving. If anyone tells you, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change,” don’t believe them!

PRAYER

We thank You, Lord, for giving us eyes to see. Though Daniel could only look forward to the coming kingdom, we can look back at its magnificent beginnings in Jesus. Yet we wait as Daniel waited, in anxious anticipation for the fullness of Your kingdom. Come, Lord Jesus; hasten that day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

God’s eternal kingdom surpasses all the fleeting kingdoms of this world.

 


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