Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Sovereign God

In Daniel 7, Daniel dreams of four beasts; ten horns; a little, boasting horn; the Ancient of Days; and the Son of Man.  Scholars are continually trying to find out which figures in history the creatures represent.  Many have settled on the first beast being Babylon, the second Persia, the third Greece (specifically Alexander the Great), and the fourth Rome.  The horns then get debated, but the details aren't really important.  The whole number 10 probably represents a completeness of earthly rulers.  The final, boasting horn is probably meant to represent the final, worst ruler that is in place as the apocalypse happens.

More important in this vision are the details about the Ancient of Days (God) and the Son of Man (Christ).  These details are what we need to concern ourselves with, and they begin from the beginning of the vision.

Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea" (7:2). This first descriptor gives us a clue as to the absolute sovereignty of God.  We tend to put evil and good on equal footing, but good has substance, whereas evil is a shadow.  Evil needs Good to survive.  Evil may be considered the absence of good by some.  Others, like C.S. Lewis consider it a parasite that feeds on good.  Whatever the illustration you use, good is way up here, and evil is way down there.  The scariest evil is but a speck of dust to the greatest good, and God himself is the greatest good.  Nothing can stand up to him and live.  His goodness is just too great.  That's why this first descriptor about the winds of heaven stirring up the great sea is so important.  God is in control of even the chaos.  The chaos is not some rogue element that God has to figure out what to do with, as if saying to himself, "What is my plan against this?"  God allows chaos to exist.  He allows evil to come forth.  Why?  So that when he crushes it, he will get the glory.  In fact, the scarier the evil, the greater God's glory when he crushes it.

The first [beast] was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it (7:4). The focus is not to be on the lion or the eagle attributes but the verbs themselves. "Were plucked" is passive.  "Was lifted up" is passive.  "Made to stand" and "was given" complete the point.  All of these things are being done to the beast.  Who is the one doing these things?  God.  The first creature is plucked, lifted up, made to stand, and given a mind by the sovereign Lord.  When our attention turns from the beast to the one who is acting on the beast, the creature no longer seems scary.

The second beast "was raised up" on one side, and it "was told" to arise.  Once again, God is in control even of a flesh-devouring beast.  The third beast: "dominion was given to it."  If that represents Alexander, who conquered the known world at the time, and yet all of that dominion WAS GIVEN to him, what does that say about God?  Even the most powerful of men are given that power from the Almighty. The fourth beast, representing Rome, is not given passive verbs, but as we see, all the rulers in subsequent history come from that beast, up until the final boasting horn, and that is when the Ancient of Days reveals himself to the world, showing that all things concerning this fourth beast are of no consequence, no matter how "terrifying and dreadful" it is.  This fourth beast and all its horns represent "the world's kingdoms" and we can see what happens to the world in the book of Revelation.  This vision also shows us another aspect of the world's destruction.

See how calm, cool, and collected God is.  Starting at verse 9: thrones are placed, he takes his seat.  Nothing haphazardly thrown together, but calmly, peacefully assembled.  The whiteness of his garment and his hair shows his purity and goodness, and yet the fire demonstrates his power.  He has thousands upon thousands who serve him, whereas the worldly beasts all seem alone.  His is not boasting, like the final horn, but he calmly opens the books and sits in judgment.  Books are patiently written, unlike boasting words that come from our mouths flippantly or callously without thought.  One has to think before writing.  See the juxtaposition?  See how grand and beautiful our God is in comparison to the four beasts and the horns?

In an instant, the beast is destroyed and burned.  How powerful is that?  But next comes the part that we need to be the most concerned with.  This isn't a battle of good v. evil.  God wins, no problem.  This isn't an issue of "which side are you on?"  Will you choose the light side or the dark?  Like when the last Star Wars movie came out and Google created an ad asking you to choose wisely.  There is no wisdom.  There is no choice.  We are all on the dark side, and yet there is no dark SIDE.  There is only the outside.  We are outside of God's kingdom, and we cannot choose to get INSIDE.  Here is why the final part of the vision is important:

“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.
And 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. (7:13-14)

There is no dark side and light side.  There is only God's kingdom and the world.  If you want to call those two things the light side and dark side, you are missing the point.  Did you see how quickly the fourth beast and all the horns were wiped out?  The world is going bye-bye, like as when the flood waters came forth and deluged the whole earth in the time of Noah.  There is no contest.  The beasts are mere puppets, set up by God to be knocked down.  There's only one place we need to be, and that is in his Kingdom, because the alternative isn't just another SIDE or aspect.  It's a shadow, an illusion.  It's going to fade away.  This world is passing away, Jesus told us.  There will be nothing left.  A new heaven and a new earth will be set but INSIDE GOD'S KINGDOM.  The old stuff won't be there anymore.

Well, how do I get on board God's kingdom?  This is the obvious question that follows.  The answer is Christ.  Christ alone is given the kingdom.  You enter the kingdom through Christ.  You don't take sides.  You don't try to be a good person, thinking, "If I'm a good person, then I must be on the 'good' side."  There is no good side.  There is only God's Kingdom and everything else is a shadow, a blip outside.  When it goes away, you go too, unless you are IN CHRIST, for it is HIS kingdom.  It will never pass away (like the world) and it will never be destroyed (like the world).

Even Daniel was alarmed at this vision, because the beasts looked so violent and dreadful.  The interpreter of the dream, however, allays his fear immediately, telling him what I just told you: Don't concern yourself with the beasts.  They are going away.  "But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever" (7:18). Notice the passive verb "shall receive."  There's nothing you do to inherit this kingdom.  God actually gives it to you.  And you will possess it forever and ever.

However, Daniel is still concerned with the fourth beast, the horns, and especially the braggart horn, even though Daniel acknowledges that even though this final horn wages war against the saints, the Ancient of Days comes and immediately fixes everything in judgment, defeating the horn and giving the kingdom to the saints (see all of Revelation).  The interpreter answers with more detail, but here are the two important aspects that we need to keep in mind.

1) This last kingdom will attempt to alter reality.  This last horn "shall think to change the times and the law" (7:25).  Think of our post-modern culture, where truth is individualistic, and we can make our own reality.  We can murder millions of babies a year and deny that it is murder.  We can abuse each other and ourselves and deny that it is adultery.  We can doublespeak our way out of sticky situations and deny we are lying.  Reality is what we make it.  There is no truth.  Everything can be seen from certain "points of view."  We are changing God's laws, God's ETERNAL laws, to suit our fancies.  But we aren't really changing the laws. Just like we can't choose a dark side or light side.  Truth is solid, immovable, and we can pretend to alter it, but in the end, all of our man-made constructions are dust that blow away.  They are shadows and fade quickly.  God's truth is the only truth.  It stands forever.

2) The court shall sit in judgment (7:26).  Notice again the patience.  God SITS in judgment.  He props the beasts up, and they look terrifying, flopping around on the earth, bellowing, boasting, and raging.  See Psalm 2.  But God sits patiently and watches with amusement.  He laughs at this demonstration.  He sits, opens his books, having patiently written down the judgments that are in them.  He has all the time in the world.  Fire emanates from him and his throne, naturally.  In other words, he doesn't have to lift a finger to cause fire to come from him.  He is an all-consuming God.  He does not TRY to defeat evil.  He does not exert himself. Evil merely cannot stand in his presence.  He only allows evil AT ALL, if it will demonstrate his glory.

Let's look at Psalm 2.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Notice there is no "choose a side" in this Psalm.  The nations rage, saying, "we are the best!"  God merely laughs.  He does not ask us to choose a side.  He merely says, "I've set up my king already.  He's over here, on Zion, my holy hill."  He's the true king.  He's the only real king.  His is the only real kingdom.  All of the others are just play-acting.  In fact, I set their false kingdoms up, so that when I knock them down, it will look really cool.  You don't want to be in those false kingdoms.  There's only one real kingdom.  you want to be there, and it can only be found in Jesus Christ.  What's more: I'm totally giving you the real kingdom as a free gift. That kingdom will be yours forever and ever.  There's no choice, it just IS.

So, which kingdom are you in?  The false one or the real one?  If, like Daniel your thoughts greatly alarm you (7:28), you are in Christ's kingdom.  The ungodly do not concern themselves with these things.  They see the beasts rise and fall and think nothing of it.  It's just life.  If you can see that the earthly kingdoms are false, that God's kingdom is the only true kingdom, and that Christ is the only entrance, you are numbered among the saints.  Only those with the Holy Spirit can see the truth to the end.