End of an Era
“End of an Era”
Intro – This morning we are continuing our study through the Book of Daniel. I have found out that it is interesting to watch The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars when studying this book. It’s not good when you end up envisioning Gandalf riding on the back of a winged leopard or Yoda slicing off horns of a goat with a lightsabre! And that’s sort of what apocalyptic genre is like – in this case with better theology. Whereas prophecy often comes in plain language, apocalyptic literature paints a graphic picture that communicates God’s message. I hope that this text paints such a graphic picture for you that it did for me. At the same time we must remember that it is not merely entertainment but communication of God’s message.
So our task is to watch this movie and interpret it for its content. This one is not produced by Hollywood but proceeds from the mouth of God Himself. I will begin by reading through the text in its entirety (without commercials) and then we will take a closer look and identify the main characters and events and, finally, the message and its implications for Daniel, the Israelites, and us. We are going to jump around quite a bit in the text. So it would be helpful for you to have your Bibles open and at the ready. Please turn to Daniel chapter 8.
May God enliven His Word as we read the text. Read Chapter 8:1-27.
So the first thing we notice is that the vision Daniel has in chapter 8 is two years after the previous vision from chapter 7. Verse one tells us that it was in the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. It is in this vision that he is transported to Susa which is in the province of Elam and near the Persian Gulf. And then he says he is at the Ulai Canal. The first image that enters the scene is that of a ram which is standing at the bank of this canal. It has two horns on it – one was higher than the other. The ram charges in multiple directions – west, north, and south. It was unstoppable. That is until Scene 2.
Daniel is just sitting there thinking to himself, “considering” the text says. And now another figure enters. In verse 5 and without warning, Daniel sees a male goat coming from the west. It’s not on a casual stroll. This thing arrives on the scene and its feet aren’t even touching the ground. This is no ordinary goat. It has a horn between its eyes, attacks the ram, and then breaks the horns off of it. But the goat is not finished. He continues to throw and trample him. And the ram is lying there, powerless. There is no one who is able to help him out. If you’re anything like my wife, you probably feel sorry for the helpless little ram at this point.
And fortunately for us, we actually have the text to help us to interpret these figures. Fast forward (because it is DVD format) to verse 15 with me. Because, like the rest of us, Daniel wants to know what these images mean. He sought to understand them. While he was pondering, “one having the appearance of a man” is there with him. He speaks in verse 16 and calls out to the angel Gabriel to interpret the vision for Daniel. The One giving the instructions is most likely God himself. We believe this because verse 17 says he fell on his face in His presence. We know that, for Daniel, the presence of an angel does not have that effect. In chapter 7, he is not even fearful of the angel. In chapter 9, he is not even fearful of Gabriel. But in this instance he falls on his face. And we know from other accounts that this is often the case. The prophet Ezekiel, also encountered the Lord and had a similar experience. In Ezekiel 3:23, the prophet writes, “So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face.” In 44:4, “Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. And I fell on my face.” Joshua met the Lord near Jericho and fell on his face before him. The apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus encountered the risen Christ and fell to the ground. John also, in Revelation wrote, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
God reveals himself and everybody is overwhelmed!! How many of us live our daily lives as though God were present and could manifest himself any moment? That’s a concept that parents have used through the ages to help with their authority. “You know God is always watching you. He is looking through the roof even now!” But if God were to manifest himself to us at any point in the day, would we be ashamed at his “arrival”? It’s one thing to be embarrassed doing something that is inappropriate. But we also know that there is a day coming when God will again manifest himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. We will indeed see Him, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Some will be comforted, and many others terrified. For at that time, there are no other opportunities to trust in Him. We will either gladly bow the knee to Him in that time, or be forced to. If you do not yet know him, consider it grace that you still have the opportunity to bow willingly. Let me encourage you. To bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ is not stifling or oppressive. It is freedom like you have never known. Who would you rather serve? Yourself? You see, here is the paradox: Mark 8:35-36 reads, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
Daniel was then told that the images that he received pertained to the time of the end. This doesn’t mean the end of history. It means the end of the era. And we will see that it pertains to the time up to and including the intertestamental period of approximately 400 years. And then the text reads that Daniel falls into a deep sleep. I don’t think that it is from boredom or exhaustion. I think it is more of a loss of consciousness. He was overwhelmed. But nonetheless, he is awakened and given the interpretation. The ram with different sized horns is interpreted as the kingdom of Medo-Persia. And if you’ve been tracking, this should recall to mind the image of the bear in chapter 7. Do you remember? It was a grotesque animal that was sort of raised up higher on one side. Chapter 7 verse 5 “And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.”
We also have the benefit of looking back into history and seeing the prophecies fulfilled. We know that before Cyrus came to power Media was a powerful force while Persia was a smaller country. But Cyrus was able to gain control over the Medes to the north and he made Persia the more important of the two states. United, they became the vast Medo-Persian Empire. So we know that of the two horns, Persia was the greater that came up last and stood taller than the other. Under Cyrus, they were the dominant force. So, in verse 5, it says that the ram (or Medo-Persia) charged unabated westward, northward, and southward. They attacked Babylonia, Syria, Asia Minor and Greece to the west. To the north – Armenia, Scythia, and the Caspian Sea region. To the south – Egypt and Ethiopia.
Next, the interpretation of the male goat. Verse 20 informs us that it is the kingdom of Greece and the horn is the first king, who we now know was Alexander the Great. This goat is also identified with the four-headed, four-winged leopard of chapter 7. This goat moved so quickly that its feet didn’t touch the ground. It took only three years for Greece, under the leadership of Alexander the Great, to conquer the entire Near East. And his empire amassed 1.5 million square miles. You’ll have to figure out the kilometers – sorry. And then you already know what happened. He died. Verse 8 says that the goat became exceedingly great and yet the great horn was broken. Four horns emerge from the one - four successors in four territories. One of these is the little horn in verse 9 who became great toward the south, east, and the glorious land – the land of Israel. This horn came to be known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In verse 10, he became great to the host of heaven and threw down and trampled the host and some of the stars. We gain a bit of insight when we look to the interpretation in verse 24. The text says that he shall cause fearful destruction and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. He shall destroy many and rise up against the Prince of princes.
Now when we encounter apocalyptic texts such as we have here. Many equate Antiochus with the Antichrist mentioned in Revelation and that these events will be indicative of THE last times. I will admit that there is at least a type of the Antichrist in Antiochus. I understand much of the apocalyptic material to have an immediate and yet future fulfillment. And I believe that the vision and interpretation we have here had its near future fulfillment by the second century BC and this under the rule of Antiochus. For our time this morning, I will be focusing primarily on the immediate fulfillment of the text.
Under the reign of Antiochus, 80,000 men, women, children and even infants were reportedly slaughtered. I want to read a historical account written in the book of 1 Maccabees. I want to be clear that this is NOT part of the canon of Scripture and thus not inspired of God. It is, however, valuable in that it fills in some of the history of the reign of Antiochus. The book reads, 20 “After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. 21 He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. 22 He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. 23 He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. 24 Taking them all, he went into his own land. He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance.” And there are at least three other places within the books of the Maccabeans that describe his acts of violence and destruction to the Israelites.
Antiochus then ceases the offerings in the Jewish temple in verses 11 and 12. One commentator states it like this, “Antiochus insisted that the Jews refrain from following the Jewish religious laws (diet, circumcision, Sabbaths, and feasts); he desecrated Yahweh’s temple; he required allegiance to himself and the Greek gods rather than to Yahweh; and he showed disrespect to Yahweh by persecuting his followers. These were blatant offenses not only against the saints but against their God, “the Prince of the host.”” He threw truth to the ground by repressing the true teachings of Yahweh, tore to pieces the books of the law and condemned to death all who attempted to adhere to the law of God. But his defining moment was one in which he erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple precincts and offered swine on it – known to be an unclean animal to the Jewish people. One would say that there was an intolerance of the things of God.
Interesting isn’t it? I’m not claiming to be a prophet or a son of a prophet. But it seems as though there is, even today, a growing resistance and hostility to the truth of Scripture. And yet we are often the ones given the label “intolerant”. A bit more on that later perhaps.
I hope that by now you realize that I have left out some important points and phrases from within the text. There is much more that is going on that we need to see. We’ve been in the midst of the forest looking at the individual trees. But now we need to pan out so that we don’t miss the forest.
The first implication I want to point out is The Proud are Destroyed. We see that several kings and kingdoms arise out of a quest for power and pride. Verse 4 says that the Medo-Persian Empire did as it pleased and became great. When this kingdom thought itself to be unstoppable, it was quickly taken out by the Greeks and Alexander the Great. This came quite unexpectedly and decisively.
The power and prominence then belonged to Alexander and his nation. “The goat became exceedingly great”. And yet, when he was at the pinnacle of his career, the great horn was broken. Alexander died again unexpectedly. As you may know, he did not die in combat but by disease (possibly malaria). The little horn, or Antiochus, grew exceedingly great in verses 9 and 10. Interestingly, in verse 11, other translations help us out a bit with the understanding here. I don’t think that the idea is that Antiochus became equal with the Prince of the host or great like Him. Other versions translate the sense to be that Antiochus magnified himself to be equal with the Prince of the host, or set himself up to be as great as the Prince. And verse 25 says that he shall become great in his own mind. In other words, he thought quite highly of himself and exalted himself. With the power, came great pride. It seems as though this is a trend among these kingdoms and rulers. And it is a dangerous place to be. Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah chapter 2:
12 For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; 13 against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; 14 against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; 15 against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; 16 against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. 17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When we act contrary to what we are created for, there are consequences. Some come in this lifetime and some in eternity. Antiochus blatantly set himself up against God. Daniel 8:25 says that he shall be broken and not by a human hand! We are told again in the historical account in 2 Maccabees that the Lord inflicted him with an incurable and invisible blow.
Second, God Disciplines Those He Loves. You probably realize by now that God will not hesitate to use any and all means necessary to restore, purify, and discipline His people. In fact, the Book of Daniel was written while the Israelites were in captivity because they had abandoned their God despite His repeated warnings. In this specific case, Antiochus gained power because of Israel’s transgression. Historical records tell us that there were many in this intertestamental period who had abandoned their Jewish worship practices in favor of the Greek influence and customs. Though Antiochus was unaware, God had raised him up to discipline Israel.
For those of you have experienced God’s discipline, you know that it is not fun when you are in the midst of it. It can be quite painful. But I want to challenge you. If you are now in the midst of such discipline, or the next time that you go through it, thank God for it! You may think I’ve gone off the deep end. But it is far better to be disciplined in this lifetime than to be punished for eternity. We need to be awakened to our sin. Awareness of sin is a gift. It is a gift to those who have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ because instantaneously they became aware of their need for a Savior. And they are given the opportunity to cling to the One who alone is able to save. For the believer, the awareness of sin presents us an opportunity to glorify God as we work together for transformation. It is our yielding to the Holy Spirit that empowers us to be controlled by Him. If sin is not eradicated in us, if we continue in the same sins over and over, how is God glorified in that? We are glorifying ourselves by stating that we will continue to serve ourselves and our own desires over and against God. Listen to the words of the Book to the Hebrews, chapter 12:
“do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Why did God give Daniel this vision? Why did he fill his head with all these images of rams, goats and horns? Images of kings and kingdoms destroying one another, the rising and falling of nations, and the setting up of those against the God of Israel? I’m not sure that Daniel could fully answer those questions. Verse 27 reveals the impact that this had on him. Daniel was overcome and lay sick for some days. He was appalled and did not understand the vision – understandably. He received visions of the future that he would not see the fulfillment of.
The third implication… God Reigns. Look at verse 13 and 14. One angel asks another angel, “How long O Lord? How long will you allow such atrocities against your holy name? How long will you allow your saints to be treated this way?” Do you know what is so fantastic about this exchange? There was an answer! “And he said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary will be restored to its rightful state.’” All of this was predetermined by God! None of this happened apart from His plan. Our God knows the future. He has ordained the future. And He has revealed the future – to Daniel and to us. In verse 26 it is written that the vision is true and is the ordained future.
Daniel did not have the benefit of seeing the hand of God carry out the completion of these events. But what a tremendous blessing it is for us to look back into history and trace His sovereignty over the nations, people, and circumstances. Nothing is happening apart from His control. Jerry Bridges wrote in his book, Trusting God, these words: “…we should likewise see in those affairs reported in our daily paper the sovereign hand of God just as much as we see it in the Bible. Of course, we don’t have the advantage of the divinely revealed explanation of today’s events, as we do of those recorded in the Bible, but that does not make God’s sovereign rule today any less certain. God recorded in His Word specific instances of His sovereign rule over history in order that we might trust Him in the affairs of history as they unfold before us today. We should remember that, for those experiencing the events recorded in the biblical narratives, God’s hand was no more apparent to them in those events than His hand is apparent to us today in ours.”
Today we see the rise and fall of political leaders and nations. We often cannot make sense of the days’ events. I don’t understand why there are terrorists bent on destruction, or why Christians are killed for their faith. I don’t understand why justice isn’t carried out to criminals, or I don’t understand why families split apart and children are left without fathers or mothers. I don’t know why parents abuse their children. But I do know that there is a God who is sovereign and working all things according to His plan. I know that in the end there will be no more atrocities against God nor against humanity. He is the Alpha and the Omega, beginning and the end – and everything in between. This brings us great comfort.
Until that day, there will continue to be the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms. But ultimately and finally OUR King and Judge is returning. If you do not yet know him, surrender to his kingship today. For He is the only ruler who is perfectly just, powerful, and merciful.
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!” Let’s Pray.