Heartbreak dead ahead
- Visions of time travel!
I remember as a young boy watching Dr Who. My memory is we would watch it most Sunday nights either while we were getting dressed for bed, or while we were having dinner. I found the whole idea of time travel fascinating. And still do. And I don’t think I’m alone – many people keep watching the good doctor, and many people still dream or scheme or think about the reality of time travel. I’d love to go back and meet Jesus and hear him and ask him questions. I’d love to go back to the start of creation. To be there perhaps when all those great Bible stories took place. Or to go to the future – what will the earth be like after another 50 years of global warming?
But what if you went into the future and it wasn’t very nice? Would it change your life if you actually knew when you would die? And what you would die from? Or when your children would die? Or if Australia was caught up in a world war in 100 years time and laid waste? And you couldn’t get those images out of your head?
I think these chapters in Daniel 7-12 are like that. Daniel has visions of the future which leave him reeling. So for instance as we look at chapter 8 of Daniel – and you might like to turn it up in your Bibles – but look at the end of the chapter – v27 – ‘I Daniel was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.’
Well, thankfully God did not make his word beyond our understanding. So as we come and think about what Daniel saw and what it means, let us pray for God to grant us right understanding.
- Daniel’s Vision
a) Its form – Apocalyptic
We’ve had Daniel 8 read to us – and it is strange stuff isn’t it at first hearing.
Before we get into it any further it’s worth stopping to reflect on the sort of literature it is. AJ asked last week – why didn’t God just say it simply – and in part saying it as we want would miss out on a lot. That is to say – the sort of literature it is gives us a greater appreciation of what God is saying.
It’s like reading a comic – if you read a comic like a report in the newspaper you miss the point and the experience and the richness of the comic form.
Likewise here. Daniel 7-12 is written in the style called ‘apocalytpic’ from the Greek word meaning ‘reveal’ or ‘revelation’.
But to get the most out of apocalyptic, and not get all tangled up in whether the ram is the Pope or Ronald Reagan or Cleopatra, we need to know how it works.
So a few quick points
• Apocalyptic has a point – especially it was designed to give God’s people great comfort in times of trials. Daniel 2-7 are written in Aramaic, but chapters 8-12 are written in Hebrew. Why? So only God’s people could understand them. They were initially written for them.
• Apocalytpic is full of what one writer called ‘Vivid language and cataclysmic images’ – all designed to keep the message in our minds and hearts, to help us remember it.
• Apocalyptic is relevant now, and was relevant back then. It is not some secret code that we can only understand now, and only if you have the right guru or key to the code. It was written for a particular group of people, in a particular time, and applies to us as well.
• And God does intend for us to be able to understand it – simply and clearly. We may have to work at it, but we can work it out. How do we do that – the last 3 points here.
• Focus on Big Picture, rather than all the minor details. It doesn’t matter how long the horns were on the ram, nor how far north or west or south he ran. Keep focussed on the big picture and the main themes. The detail is only there to make up or highlight the big picture. But be warned – lots of people get so bogged down in the details they miss the main point.
• And so there are many symbols. For instance we’ve already seen in Daniel how horns symbolise kingdoms and powers. Numbers also are generally to be taken symbolically. We saw that in Revelation when we preached on it some time back. It’s the same in Daniel. And that will be important when you get some strange ideas thrown at you about what the numbers in Daniel mean.
• And then identify only what the text tells you to do. Don’t try to work out what you aren’t told. God will tell us and has told us what we need to know. If we don’t think it goes as far as we want it to go, then be careful. If we have to know what is what, God will tell us.
• Yet for all that, apocalyptic is more than just a literary form. Apocalyptic is also a worldview – a worldview that sees history as moving in recurring patterns, the same things happen over and over again throughout time, yet history is moving forwards, like a spiral, spiralling towards that time when God will wind up history as we know it.
I like apocalyptic – it’s graphic, memorable, and when you put the hard work into wrestling with it, it is greatly encouraging. So let’s look at Daniel 8.
b) Its content (8:1-14)
Daniel 8 records for us a vision. And vv1-2 set the context for the vision. READ.
It’s the third year of King Belshazzar. We’ve come across him already last week in ch 7, and before that in ch 5 – the writing on the wall, and with this vision in mind, Daniel can confidently tell Belshazzar it’s all over for him. On the bigger stage, this year was the year Cyrus flexed his muscles and established the joint state of the Medes and Perisans – you can read about him in Is 45:1, how God raised him up to defeat Babylon. In just 12 years or thereabouts he will conquer Babylon – heading west and north into Asia Minor and then south into Babylon and beyond. So if you remember ch 7 last week, or Nebuchadnezzar’s statue in ch 2 – Cyrus’ kingdom would be the second kingdom in the line of 4, overthrowing the Babylonian kingdom.
And whilst Daniel is still living in Babylon, in his vision he sees himself in Susa. Susa is a city which would become the winter capital of the Medo-Persian kings. We read of it in Nehemiah chapter 1 and in Esther. It had a big man-made canal running alongside it – the Ulai Canal was its ancient name, and it is there that Daniel sees some strange things. It is a vision which concerns the next great force in world history – as it affects God’s people.
I’ve summarized the main things he sees on this table –
|3||I looked up and there before me was a ram.|
|3||With two horns, one longer than the other. (v4 – charged west, north and south)|
|5||Suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west.|
|I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns.|
|8||The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place 4 prominent horns grew up.|
|9||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.|
|10||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.|
|11||It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of the sanctuary was brought low.|
|12||Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice will be given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.|
Strange vision isn’t it. And as we reach the end of v12 we think – there must be more to come. What happens? There seems no fall of this small horn. And yet there comes a pause. The holy ones discuss. Not asking why, because they understand this is how God has so ordained events – but how long? Will God limit this triumph of evil? Yes. It is all under control.
And Daniel wants to know – what does it all mean? We would be like Daniel in v15 wouldn’t we – trying to understand it. And suddenly an angel stands before him, and a voice, we take it the voice of God, tells the angel to explain the vision to Daniel. Not just for Daniel’s sake, but for the sake of others as well.
And so the angel explains.
c) Its meaning (8:15-27)
But first up Daniel must understand the context – v17 – it concerns the time of the end. And again in v19 – it is what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. What time is that? Well hold that thought for a few minutes until we get through the rest of the explanation, then see if can work it out.
And then the angel, named as Gabriel, proceeds in v20 to explain the vision. Very helpful isn’t it. Daniel and we are not left to guess. God makes it clear.
So let’s go back to our table and see if we can work it out.
|3||I looked up and there before me was a ram.||Medo-Persian Empire||20|
|3||With two horns.||Kings of Media & Persia||20|
|5||Suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west.||1st king of Greece||21|
|7||I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns.|
|8||The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place 4 prominent horns grew up.||4 kingdoms that will emerge from his nation||22|
|9||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.||A stern-faced king, a master of intrigue||23|
|10||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.||He will destroy the holy people||24|
|11||It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of the sanctuary was brought low.||stand … against the Prince of princes||25|
|12||Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice will be given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.|
We learn that the ram is the Medo-Persian empire. In ancient literature the ram often depicted Persia. 2 horns representing the 2 parties in the Empire. One- the Persians – were more powerful than the other, more dominant, hence the longer horn. The Medo-Persian Empire ruled from 539-330BC.
The goat was the symbol of Macedonia, and here represents the king of Greece – Alexander the Great. Who at 26 defeated the Medo-Persian Empire very quickly. Just 4 years, from 334-330BC, to conquer from Europe to India. Hence in v5 the picture of him crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. The Greek Empire then lasted from 330-63BC, before it was defeated by Rome.
When Alexander died in 323BC, at just 33 years old, the kingdom was split up among his 4 generals and became 4 empires – Macedon/Greece, Thrace/Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine/Egypt. One of these was the Seleucids, based in Syria. They took control of Palestine and Israel from the Ptolemies of Egypt artound 195BC. And the eighth ruler of the Seleucid Empire was a man called Antiochus IV. His reign started in 175BC. He gave himself the surname Epiphanes, meaning ‘the visible god’.
And he is the focus of this vision. We may be more interested in Alexander, but not God. The focus here is on Antiochus – Antiochus, the small horn, is the main problem.
Antiochus is the small horn of v9 which starts small, but grows in power to the east and south and toward the Beautiful land – namely Israel. Antiochus is the stern-faced king of v23. He is the master of intrigue – the Seleucid throne was not his by right, but he plotted and schemed, he wheeled and dealed, he used intrigue and deceit, he pushed people out of the way, to get it.
Antiochus hated the Jews. He thought everyone and everywhere ought to be hellenised, and so he determined to get rid of Judaism. Inn 171BC he got rid of the high priest and replaced him with his own man. In 169BC he entered Jerusalem and the temple, and did some pretty awful things over the next 4-5 years:
- he went into the holy of holiesi nthe temple and carried off some of the gold and silver vessels;
- he made the observance of Jewish religion a capital offence;
- he ordered daily sacrifices to end in the temple (spoken of in v12). There were 2 sacrifices each day – one in the morning and one in the evening. Antiochus put an end to both of them, and set up instead a system of temple prostitution;
- he defiled the temple, dedicating it to Zeus in 167BC by introducing a holy object to Zeus and sacrificing a pig on the altar, and scattering its blood around;
- he burnt all the copies of the Torah he could find, he forbade the reading of it, and in fact made it capital offence to have one or to obey it (so v12 – truth was thrown to the ground);
- he forbade circumcision on threat of death, and banned observance of holy days and the Sabbath, and made unclean meat mandatory fare;
- in one three day period he killed 40,000 Jews;
- he sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery; and
- tortured Jews until they denounced their religion
You can read about it in the Apocrypha – 1 Maccabees.
And so we read in v24 – he will destroy the mighty men and the holy people, namely the Jews, they will take some sever blows; he will consider himself superior we read in v25 – he made himself equal to a god, so much so that he takes his stand against the Prince of princes, that is, God himself.
And the question would be – when and how will it end? And I think that is the reference to end in vv17 and 19 – the end of the events in the prophet’s vision. The time of the end in the prophets doesn’t always refer to when everything will end, but rather when will be the end of the time Daniel is seeing. When will this persecution end? How long will God allow this rebellion and attack on him to last? How long will God allow his earthly sanctuary to be defiled in this way?
Answer – v14 - it will be a limited time – 2300 evenings and mornings. And then will come his end - look at v25 – he will be destroyed, but not by human power.
[2300 – ½ days ie sacrifices – interval between desecration of temple and removal of the altar to the Lord in 168BC, and reconsecration in 165BC;
- days per Gen 1– the desecration lasted from the removal of Onias III the high priest in 171 until rededication: 2300 days;
- years so one day is like a year – Artaxerxes decree in 457BC to 1844, William Miller, SDA, cleansing of heavenly sanctuary by Jesus, but take little horn as religious Rome. Not!]
But remember the purpose of numbers – not date-setting but comfort. God knows what he is doing. He sets a limit on evil.
In 167 a revolt broke out against Antiochus, led by Judas Maccabeus. Eventually they won, in 165BC they rededicated the temple to the Lord, and pushed Antiochus back to Syria. And one day, on a campaign in Media in 164 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes was overwhelmed by an attack of pain. There was a brief mysterious illness - a form of dementia - and he was a dead man. He died, not by war, but by disease or accident. Not by human power but by God’s hand.
This is the time of the end – for this vision at least – the rededication of the temple, and the restoration of true religion. This is seen as the vindication of God’s sovereignty.
Daniel’s vision is a vision of the future. This chapter is set about 550BC, it concerns events some 370 years into the future. Think about that - God can tell Daniel the names of the empires and what will happen in 370 years time, for God is in control of history, in control of the future. It is such a small thing for God to tell us about the future. And it proves to us the Word of God, the Bible is true. These things really happened.
d) Its application
Daniels’ vision is about the future. It’s why in v26 he is told to seal it up – it needs to be kept safe for future generations, for it concerns the distant future, and has no immediate application for Daniel – he is to get about his business. As we are, and with the word of God in our hearts and minds as we do so. Daniel is appalled by the vision – such is his heart for God and his people that he is physically sick and appalled because of what it suggests happening to God’s people, appalled by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the attack on God himself, the dishonouring of God.
It is beyond his understanding, but not those living in Antiochus’ time who would have been comforted by this vision, they would have seen it coming. And it is not beyond our understanding, with the benefit of hindsight and having seen it fulfilled.
- God’s vision
The theme of Daniel you’ll remember is God’s sovereignty. Even in the face of powerful human kingdoms, God’s kingdom will win out for God is superior. He is in control of all that is happening, and his victory is only a matter of time.
So why is Daniel 8 here? Not to mystify God’s people, but to warn them, to fortify them with faith and hope for the difficult days that were ahead, and to help them understand, at least in part, why He would allow these terrible adversities to happen.
God gives Daniel this vision to encourage the people of God. In Daniel’s time, in the 2nd century BC time, in our time. When events and happenings seem awful for God and his people, when we seem to be living in chaos, as Daniel was, – don’t be alarmed, for God is in control. There will be an end to persecution. Despite appearances, behind the scenes it is a very different story. God will win in the end. As Christians we are on the winning team.
There will always be Babylons, Greeces and Persians - human kingdoms clashing with each other, seeking power, and seeking to take the place of God. We see it all the time don’t we? It is the history of humanity isn’t it? But their end will come. It is assured. They will come and they will go.
Remember our spiral and our line of history. Daniel 8 is a snapshot of what would happen at one point in history. Such events will keep happening until the end of history, until the final establishment and fulfillment of the kingdom of God..
So too there will always be Antiochus’ – individuals, who will always clash with one another, and seek to take the place of God in their own lives. But their end is assured also. Unless they repent and turn back to God before his wrath comes. God will not always tolerate rebels. The end of Antiochus is the end of all who set themselves against God.
And not just human beings – Antiochus is not the only one in view here – there is a more ominous and shadowy figure, who reaches the hosts of heaven. Who empowers Antiochus for his evil. Who we’ve seen in ch 7 at the end of world history. Antiochus is a sign and a symbol of what is to come at the very end, he is a pre-figuring of the final antichrist, and all those who are anti-Christ in the mean time. Daniel's vision would not have been preserved for us in the Bible if the events in them were not a foreshadowing of what will happen to us at the end of time.
For God has appointed his king. Rev 5- a lamb! This is God’s biggest picture. God rules. The rule of God comes not through force of arms but a king sacrificing himself for his subjects.
God is in control – keep trusting him, keep fighting against the forces of evil that threaten you, keep living for Christ in the present, whilst we wait in hope for the future.