Pastor Kyle McIver
Oceans have always fascinated me. Whenever I watch Planet Earth or some similar production, shows featuring ocean life have always held a particular appeal. There is so much life in the water, and so much variety. There are tiny fish you can find from the beach, and there are countless species near the bottom of the ocean that we haven’t even discovered yet. The ocean is at the same time accessible to a child, and yet far beyond our reach in discovering it’s depths. And as we turn to Daniel 7 this evening, the ocean serves as a very helpful frame of reference for this part of the Bible.
The main message of the Bible - that Jesus saves sinners - is accessible to my four year old daughter. She can hear, know, believe, and be saved. Yet certain parts of the Bible tend to feel like the bottom of the ocean to us - unexplored, mystical, even a little bit frightening. I think for many Christians, the second part of the book of Daniel is like the depths of the ocean. We know there’s truth to be had, depths to be explored, but because it isn’t as accessible as some of the beaches in the Gospels or Paul’s letters, we don’t take the time to slow down and put in the work necessary to explore it’s depths. This is one reason I’m so glad that Redeemer is a church committed to preaching through books of the Bible. Your pastors knew that Daniel would be a challenging book, but since it’s God’s Word, we were excited to jump into the deep sea submarine together and see what we would find.
Now before we get into the text of Daniel 7 directly, I want to help us get ready for the strangeness we’ll feel in this passage by making a few observations about genre. Genre, when we’re speaking about the Bible, gets at the style, the composition of a letter or portion of a book. What we have in Daniel 7, as well as many other passages throughout the rest of the book of Daniel, is an apocalyptic genre. The book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is also apocalyptic, and happens to be another book many shy away from as a result. But apocalyptic literature in the Bible is not meant to be ultimately foreboding or frightening. It’s also not meant to be read looking back at history, attempting to make every single minute detail fit into observable histories of kings, kingdoms, wars, and world events. One of the primary things we need to know in order to rightly understand what God is telling his people in a section of the Bible like Daniel 7 is that apocalyptic literature is meant to bring us hope. Yes, hope! Not fear about the end times or worries about fantastic beasts, but hope in the God who reigns over all of history and every moment that has yet to come.
One of the ways apocalyptic literature in the Bible does this is by creating contrast - contrast between the present age marked by conflict and suffering, and the coming age marked by peace. As we begin to work through the visions and images in Daniel 7, we’re going to keep this theme at the forefront: the present age - where we are and where all of human history post-Genesis 3, which is marked by conflict and suffering, compared with the future age marked by peace. And the end goal of this contrast for us this evening in Daniel 7 as God’s people is hope. We could say that the interpretive principle when working through texts like this one is Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Here’s how we’ll work through our text this evening. We’re going to do an overview of the chapter, getting a feel for the content and flow of the passage. As we go we’re going to highlight the themes that emerge, which help us understand what this chapter is intended to teach us. Finally, we’re going to zero in on one theme in particular, the Son of Man, and see how it is central not only to the book of Daniel, but to much of the New Testament.
So here we go with Daniel 7.
The general movement of this chapter is a series of visions: first we get four beasts, followed by a heavenly courtroom, followed by judgement on the beasts, followed by another heavenly vision concerning the Son of Man. After seeing these visions, Daniel asks for an interpretation, and is given one to close the chapter. Visions, request for interpretation, interpretation. Let’s look at each of those sections.
The first section, the visions, opens with vivid depictions of four different beasts Daniel sees while laying in bed. You might even be able to call this a nightmare! Scanning through the descriptions, we quickly see that these are not your ordinary lions and tigers and bears. These creatures are a mash-up of different animals that we’re familiar with, and I think there’s a unique danger as we look at these creatures - a danger perhaps especially unique to the last 15-20 years. We read these descriptions, and we aren’t frightened. Our minds begin to assemble these monstrosities while at the same moment thinking, “the Demagorgun in Stranger Things is a lot creepier than this flying lion over here...” Or we think of other frightening images we’ve seen in movies or on TV and we’re perhaps desensitized to the images presented at the outset of this chapter. I say this is a danger because we’re supposed to feel what Daniel feels: afraid - terrified even! But wait a second, didn’t I just say this chapter is meant to encourage us? Yes. And we should be frightened right now? Also, yes. In order to get to the encouragement and hope we’re offered here, we need to really feel the fright and the heaviness of these beasts and what they mean.
Look at verses 2 and 3: we read about the four winds of heaven...stirring up the great sea. If you’re hearing this during Daniel’s day, this phrase would conjure the idea of a compass and all the different directions, a geographical comprehensiveness; and the sea represents chaos and rebellion. So we have this comprehensive chaotic sea that starts spitting out horrific monsters representative of evil. There’s also a connection back to chapter 2, where we saw the statue in a vision, cast of four different metals, representing four different kingdoms. The same idea is at play here, with the four monsters representing four different kings or kingdoms. And there are descriptions of what these animals are doing… they have ribs in their teeth… they’re told to arise, devour much flesh… they’re given dominion, and use it to further devour, stomp and destroy all in their path. So as we lay all of these images together, the picture comes into focus: the present age is ruled by tyrants and evil kings. It is marked by chaos, rebellion against God, and suffering. These kingdoms are terrifying to behold because of the destruction that they bring. Verse 15 says that Daniel is alarmed and anxious about the visions, and we’re beginning to understand why. They are bleak and disturbing!
But then there is an abrupt change of scenery - we are lifted from the dark chaos of the churning, monster-filled seas, and transported into the presence of the Ancient of Days - the very presence of God himself. Daniel again finds himself an observer, an onlooker, and we get his observations about the scene before him in verses 9-12. Now there are several elements in these four verses that I want to draw your attention to:
First, there are several references to fire. Fire indicates the presence of God: there was fire around the throne and fire issuing before him. Think Exodus 3 and the burning bush as the visible representation of God’s presence - same thing here in this vision of the heavenly throne, highlighting that we are in God’s presence.
Second, note the stark contrast of the chaotic seas and the heavenly throne room. God is not thrown off by evil rulers and tyrannical kingdoms. I don’t know if John Piper originated this statement or not, but I once heard him say that “God does not drive an ambulance” - and that’s exactly right. As the most fearsome, destructive kingdoms on earth cause chaos and destruction, God is not in a state of emergency. He is not panicked. He is on his throne and he is in total control.
And as the one who is in total control, he does not observe passively. He sits down for judgment and opens the books - the records of history - to deliver justice for the evils and atrocities committed by these kings and their kingdoms. And look at verses 11-12: for all the fright we felt over the descriptions of these beasts and how horrible these kingdoms were, God ends them - just like that. Look at verse 11, starting at the second sentence there: And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. Who is in control here? Not these beastly kings! When the Ancient of Days says they’re done, they’re done! And if God wants them to endure a little longer, he prolongs their reign for a season and a time - he sets the boundaries.
There is real comfort for us here. The world we live in is a volatile place. There are some truly wicked rulers at large today. Politics around the world are a mess, and strong leadership, sadly, is not the norm. Yet the Ancient of Days is on his throne, he keeps the records, he is the one who appoints the times and limits to all earthly rulers, and he will bring true justice. So amidst the present chaos of pandemics and elections and human rights atrocities, know that the Ancient of Days sees all of it. He is not driving an ambulance, he is not surprised, and he has not lost control. Not for a millisecond. And if this vision of the Ancient of Days wasn’t grand enough, the rest of this chapter is going to take us even further into God’s sovereign plan for all of human history.
Now, before we get to the next couple verses which focus on one more heavenly scene when a son of man is presented before the Ancient of Days, let’s take a quick look at the rest of the chapter. Daniel indicates in verse 15 that he is anxious and alarmed over what he has seen. He doesn’t understand, and seeks an interpretation. Now, the best I can tell is that Daniel is still seeing something of a vision here, and the one that he approaches in verse 16 is a bystander in the courts of heaven. This bystander obliges and answers his questions, though not in great detail. He confirms that the beasts represent four kings, but is quick to assert that the kingdom will be inherited by the saints of the Most High.
Daniel then presses him for more information about the fourth beast - the one exceedingly terrifying and destructive - and as he’s asking, he sees that the horn on this beast with eyes and a mouth makes war on the saints and conquers them, but only until the Ancient of Days comes in judgment to deliver the kingdom to his saints. Then this heavenly interpreter goes into more detail about the fourth beast in verses 23-27. And what we get here is repetition of themes that have already emerged throughout the chapter. This beast - a king - is a destructive devourer who will give rise to additional kings and kingdoms who will likewise reign in wickedness. There will be blasphemy and rebellion against God, the Most High, but the end of these wicked rulers will come when God sits down to judge. And when God judges, his verdict is both final and ultimate. And once again we see that the kingdom and the dominion will be given to the saints of the Most High.
In the final verse of the chapter, Daniel is yet again alarmed - he’s pale! This man who stood his ground before oppressive kings and displayed unshakeable faith, seems about ready to pass out. And that’s where it ends.
So the movement of the chapter essentially boils down to a set of visions that displays the rise of wicked kings, and then their subsequent demise because of God’s judgment. And not only does God judge the wicked, he also delivers an everlasting kingdom to his people. We see that God is sovereign and just, no matter the chaos that is unfolding on earth, and that this is a great source of comfort for God’s people. As much as the imagery and apocalyptic nature of this chapter makes us work for it’s meaning, we made it - we’ve got the general sense of the passage. But right now we’re looking at Daniel 7 in black and white, on an old-school 12” TV screen. So what we’re going to do now is jump back into our passage and zero in on verses 13-14 where we see the Son of Man presented before the Ancient of Days. And the Son of Man is the interpretive key to this chapter - the Son of Man is going to take us from a 12” black and white picture to an 85” 4K TV vantage point of Daniel chapter 7 and really, of the entire Bible itself.
Look at verses 13 and 14. Again we have the Ancient of Days, but the text tells us: 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. So who is this Son of Man? There are a few different ways we can get at the answer to that question. Right within this passage, there are several allusions and clues that this isn’t merely an ordinary human being.
The first is the way in which he enters the scene. Verse 13 says that this Son of Man comes “with the clouds of heaven”. Clouds are often used throughout the Old Testament to signify God’s presence. In the book of Exodus for example, chapter 16 verse 10 says that “the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud”... and Exodus 19:9 reads, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud…” Or consider Isaiah 19:1, where we read this: “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud…” So the very image of the Son of Man coming on the clouds sets us up to think in terms of divinity, of the presence and power of God himself.
Next, look at the different words and phrases applied to the Son of Man and his kingdom in the rest of verses 13 and 14. He is “presented” before the Ancient of Days and “given dominion”. This is an echo all the way back to Genesis 1, when God created mankind and declared that they ought to have dominion over fish, birds, livestock, and everything that creeps on the earth. And not only does the Son of Man receive dominion, but glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him…” That word “serve” in verse 14 is used in both in Daniel 3 and in Daniel 6, and similar to the sense we’re supposed to get here in Daniel 7, it carries with it the connotation of worship, of one who is divine.
So we have someone who is called a son of man, yet comes on the clouds with divine authority. He is given dominion, like Adam in Genesis 1, but more than just dominion in that he also receives glory and a kingdom. And he will be served - worshipped - by all peoples. It is no wonder then that Jesus, the Son of God, took the title Son of Man upon himself, for the Son of Man in Daniel 7 is indeed Jesus. There is no other title in the gospels that Jesus takes for himself more frequently than the Son of Man. The rich texture in this description of the Son of Man demonstrates for us that Jesus is both God and man. That he is our representative and the new and better Adam. That he is the King who will receive the eternal kingdom along with his saints.
Now, what does Jesus as the Son of Man and focal point of this chapter mean for what we’ve heard so far? Let’s look again at movement in verses 23-27. Notice the similarities between verse 14 and verse 27: there’s dominion and a kingdom, both everlasting. In verse 14 we see all peoples, nations, and languages worshiping the Son of Man, and in verse 27 we see the King of the everlasting kingdom ruling in benevolence, giving the kingdom to his people, the saints of the Most High. The explanation of the visions in verses 23-27, which culminates in verse 27, is really a further explanation and interpretation of verse 14 and the kingdom of the Son of Man. This is the 4K high definition perspective of all of human history: that Jesus is THE king and that his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Though tyrants rage and nations war, though this life be filled with turmoil, sin, and suffering, Jesus remains unshakeable. He is the ultimate ruler who will shatter nations and earthly kings and bring everyone to justice.
Now, that’s really good news for us. Jesus will address every wrong, in the end justice will be satisfied, and we can rest in that. But I wonder if for some of you, that feels vague. Yes, you say, Jesus will one day in the future bring justice and come in power and bring his kingdom. But right now I’m scared. Right now my family is hurting. Right now I’m lonelier than I’ve ever been. Right now I’m crushed by the cumulative weight of responsibility I carry. How does the global magnitude of Jesus and his kingdom connect to me, personally, right now?
Well, there are only two kingdoms. Colossians 1 tells us that we belong either to the domain of darkness, or to the kingdom of the Beloved Son. This is true on the same grand level that we see at first glance in Daniel 7, but it is also true on a deeply personal level. If you belong to the kingdom of the Beloved Son - this Son of Man, Jesus Christ - then that means that he has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, in his kingdom that he will deliver to us; it means that He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to his own kingdom under his own kingship; it means he has redeemed you totally and completely, and forgiven every sin that you have committed and ever will commit. Jesus has done that for you. Personally.
Jesus’ work in saving sinners is at the same time cosmically grand, and personally tender. He has purchased the church as a whole to be his bride, and he has purchased each one of us individually to be part of that body. Jesus’ justice will be executed on rulers and nations, while at the same time, wonder of wonders, that same justice was taken upon himself so that you - each one of you here tonight trusting in Jesus - might be saved.
I mentioned Romans 15:4 earlier, making the point that Daniel 7, like the rest of the Scriptures, are meant for our encouragement, that we might have hope. Jesus gives us comprehensive, unshakeable hope. On the grand scale, we know that Jesus is sovereign - he doesn’t do emergencies, he doesn’t drive an ambulance. He works all things for our good and will judge every wrong and every evil act along the way. And we need this today - the world is a mess. Take as one example the image of God in every human. God’s image bearers are being cast aside for convenience, political advantage, and power. And knowing that Jesus will execute justice for all of these wrongs brings both comfort and hope.
Yet Jesus doesn’t only give hope on this grand scale of rulers and governments. He also brings hope directly to individual human hearts wrestling with specific sins and very real forms of suffering. Consider the contrast between Jesus and rulers imagined as monsters in the first part of Daniel 7. These kings manipulate and hoard, they devour, demean, and destroy. They are literally your worst nightmare. But Jesus, Jesus is not like these petty kings. Jesus feeds and provides. Jesus woo’s and persuades. Jesus surprises us with mercy and strengthens us with grace. Jesus is not bothered by the weakness and the problems of his citizens - but rather his heart is drawn out to us by the very sins and suffering that we fear will alienate us from him. He does not cast aside the inconvenient or the disadvantaged! Jesus is a king beyond comparison, who knows and cares for and befriends every single one of his citizens personally, and intimately. Jesus is your unshakeable hope no matter what’s happening within your heart, home, city, state, or nation.
Which brings us to the table. Here at the table we have a visible representation of our unshakeable hope in Jesus. When he ate this meal with his disciples just before his death, he promised that he would not eat it again until he returned. And he will return. He is coming for us to make all things new!