Daniel 7: Perspective

To this point in Daniel, all the visions and dreams have happened to other people and Daniel has merely interpreted them.  Now he begins to experience them for himself.  These visions, though happening to different people at different times, are all about the same thing: the future, some of which is future even to us.  Daniel gives us detail not found anywhere else in Scripture.

This particular vision came to Daniel in the first year of Belshazzar, v. 1, or within a few years of the beginning of the Medo-Persian empire under Cyrus.

The chapter may be divided into two sections:

1. Vision and interpretation, vs. 1-18.
2. Question and answer, vs. 19-28.

Daniel’s vision and its interpretation, 7:1-18.

This vision seems also to be divided into two sections:

a. an earthly scene, vs. 1-8.
b. a heavenly scene, vs. 9-14.

An earthly scene, vs. 1-8.

Something to pay attention to in this vision is the different way it views the various empires of which it speaks compared to Nebuchadnezzar’s vision.  Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was of a great image, or statue, 2:31, something man could build and be proud of, something which would show off his ingenuity and skill, a statue made of valuable materials.  Daniel himself described it like this:  this great image, whose splendor was excellent,…and its form was awesome.  Even the least significant part, the feet and toes, was made of ceramic clay, a valuable commodity.  This is, if you will, the earthly viewpoint.

Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 shows these same empires as vicious beasts, mongrel beasts, monstrous beasts, good only to destroy and to be destroyed.  This is the heavenly viewpoint.

Strange, isn’t it, the difference between the two viewpoints.  What fallen man, even religious fallen man, praises and glories in, God finds detestable, Luke 16:15.

As we look more closely at this vision, we see:

A. The first three beasts, vs. 2-6.

We lump these three together because of the relative lack of space given to them as compared with the fourth beast.

1. From later prophecies in Daniel, and from history itself, we know this first beast, vs. 2-4, represents the Babylonian Empire.  Lion-like figures with wings and human heads abound in the ruins of this empire.  The latter description of this first beast perhaps refers to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar and his restoration, with a consequent lessening of the brutality of the empire.  Cf. the phrase, a man’s heart was given it, v. 4, with the corresponding verses in 4:13-16, where a watcher, a holy one, …from heaven cried aloud concerning Nebuchadnezzar, “Let his heart be changed from that of a man.  Let him be given the heart of a beast.”
Perhaps a key word for this beast is “demeanor,” as Nebuchadnezzar learned the cost and futility of human pride of accomplishment.  This lesson was lost on those who followed him, either in his own family, i.e., Belshazzar, or in the empires which followed.

2. The second beast, v. 5, is Medo-Persia.  The raised side refers to Persia, which was the stronger of the two kingdoms.  The three ribs refer to the three kingdoms this empire destroyed:  Babylon, Lydia and Egypt.  Lydia was a kingdom in approximately the area we know today as Turkey, the area of the seven churches in the Revelation.  Perhaps a key word for this kingdom is “destruction”:  “arise, devour much flesh.”  This kingdom was noted for its rapacity and cruelty.

3. The third beast, v. 6, is Greece.  The beast itself, a leopard, is described as having four wings, which symbolize the rapidity with which Alexander, though not named, conquered the Persian Empire.  The four heads refer to the four generals who served with him and who divided his kingdom after his early death at 33.  The key word for this kingdom is “dominion,” which even the text uses of it.  However, Grecian influence went far beyond the mere conquest of lands and kingdoms.  Alexander’s great desire was to spread Greek culture, including the language, throughout his domain.  So successful was he in this that Greek became the universal language of the day, even down to New Testament times.  Wherever the Gospel went, it could be understood.  The New Testament was written in ordinary, everyday Greek, and even the Old Testament was translated into Greek.  Sometimes that translation is quoted in New Testament uses of Old Testament verses.

A century and a half before the birth of our Lord, it was a ruler of the Seleucid segment of Alexander’s empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who did his best to destroy the Jews.  His efforts are prophesied in Daniel.

Finally, Greek customs prevailed even among many Jews.  This led to a culture war, if you will, between those who wanted to remain faithful to their own heritage, customs and language (the “Hebrews”), and those who saw nothing wrong with adapting and conforming to the Greek culture, even to speaking the language (the “Hellenists,” from the Greek word for “Greek”).  The first church dispute, recorded in Acts 6, reflects this dissension:  …there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution, Acts 6:1.  Vs. 1-6 show how wisely that dispute was resolved.  Note the Grecian names of the seven chosen to take care of the problem.

B. The fourth beast, vs. 7, 8.

Again we note that the most space is given to this beast, whose key word is “different.”  Exactly how it is different is not described:  perhaps there are no earthly beasts to which it can be compared.  One difference is that this beast is nowhere identified as to which kingdom it represents.  It is simply a fourth beast, vs. 7, 19, and a fourth kingdom, v. 23.  It is usually identified as Rome, which did indeed defeat Greece and then spread throughout their known world.  This identification in historically tenable, yet it seems this fourth beast of Daniel isn’t quite analogous to Rome.  The Spirit’s own interpretation follows later in the chapter.

There are a couple of things said about this beast:

1. its destructiveness, v. 7.  The description is of an unstoppable “mad dog” sort of beast, tearing and destroying everything in its path.

2. its distinctiveness, vs. 7b, 8.  Again, we’re not told how it is different.  The only description Daniel gives us besides its dreadful teeth and paws is the fact that it had ten horns.  As we’ll see, this is perhaps the most vital part of the vision.  Another horn appears and defeats three of the ten horns.  This “horn” possesses eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.  These speak of intelligence and an insolent attitude, although toward what we’re not yet told, as Daniel’s attention is drawn elsewhere. What he saw, Lord willing, will be in our next post.

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Revelation 2:12-17, The Church at Pergamos: Married…for Worse.

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword. “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.  And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.  Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.  And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘ 
(NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, 2:12.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, and a period of struggle, his empire was divided among four of his generals.  Two of them, and their successors, are the kings “of the north” and “of the south” mentioned in Daniel 11.  Another general took Asia Minor, the area of the seven churches in Revelation.  This dynasty of Greek rulers centered in Pergamos, making it a royal city, and their luxurious living raised that city to the rank of “First of Asia” as regards splendor.  Thus  Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos vied for, and claimed, the title of “First,” although for different reasons.

Pergamous was famous for several things.  Among them were the magnificent temples of Zeus, Athena, Apollo and Aesculapius, who was the god of healing.  His symbol was the caduceus, entwined serpents of a staff of wood, the symbol of medicine to this day.  His temple was a sort of Lourdes of its day and people came from all over to be healed.  Pergamos was also the birthplace of Galen, who is second only to Hippocrates in medical history.  His voluminous, if somewhat inaccurate, writings were authoritative into the Dark Ages.

In addition, Pergamos was noted for the invention of parchment, probably as a result of the impressive library which was there, which rivaled the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  It also enjoyed the distinction of having  the very first temple dedicated to emperor worship, built for Augustus in 29 BC.  There were many others built in other cities, and even others in this city, but Pergamos had the first one.  It was, therefore, sort of a “cathedral city” for emperor worship.  Moreover, it was the center of Roman provincial government.

The name “Pergamos” seems to have two meanings: high and lofty, and marriage.  Thus the church at Pergamos seems to foreshadow that period of time beginning with the conversion of Constantine, thus ending the persecutions, but entering the church into an uneasy marriage with the world which saw it lose its true purpose and power to become engulfed in a quest for political power and prestige.

At its beginning, Christianity was tolerated by Rome because it was viewed as just another weird Jewish belief.  When it became evident that even the Jews hated the sect of the Nazarene, that toleration ceased and varying degrees of persecution began, which lasted about three centuries.  Then Constantine arrived on the scene.  Christianity was never to be the same.

The “conversion” of Constantine is well-known, how he says he saw a vision in the sky of a shining cross with the words “hoc signo vinces” (“By this you shall conquer”) written across it.  Facing an important battle at the time, he took this to mean that, in this new sign, he would be victorious.  He was.  (By way of irony, his motto was for a time on a certain brand of cigarettes.)

Eventually, Constantine became emperor and took his belief with him.  At first, he simply made Christianity legal, thus stopping generations of persecution.  It was alright if you wanted to be a Christian, but other religions were ok, too.  Eventually, though, he made it official, that is, it was the only allowable religion.

Over the years, Rome came severely to persecute true believers, those who refused to go along with it, wanting simply to live by the Scriptures and not as “the church” insisted.  This was also a practice followed for a long time by the Reformers against the Anabaptists and other dissidents, whose beliefs one Lutheran writer described as “dangerous propaganda.” (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, pp. 216, 217.  This was my church history textbook in college.  The Anabaptists weren’t without flaws, true, some serious, but they were mainly despised because they refused infant baptism and rebaptized those who had been sprinkled as infants, after they professed faith in Christ.  Hence “anabaptist: “rebaptizer”.) Though they no longer murder dissenters, that attitude can sometimes still be seen among Reformed writers in their views on certain subjects.

More importantly, Constantine used the Empire as a pattern for how things were to be done.  Granted, the idea of how the church was to be organized had developed and changed since the time of the apostles; he just put the final touches on it.  Gone was the NT idea that the local church was independent and self-governing; it now became just a tiny part of an enormous religious monolith, with Constantine as its head, and Rome as its headquarters.  While there was some adherence to Biblical teaching for a time, (it was during this time that the Arian controversy was settled,) this gradually came to be almost completely replaced by a continually evolving Roman dogma. It did indeed become an extensive and impressive “religion,” with towering church buildings, lavish and impressive ritual, and an overwhelming and authoritarian hierarchy, but all of this has little to do with Scripture, which itself has largely been replaced by Papal decree and “official” church dogma.  What little of it that’s left must be held in agreement with how the church “interprets” it.

It’s not supposed to be about adherence to any particular organization: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, or any other, but about faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.  In everything, He is to have the preeminence, Colossians 1:18.

2. Christ of the Epistle 2:12.

He who has the sharp two-edged sword.

This referred to the usual sharp-pointed double-edged sword of the Roman army.  It was also a symbol in that army of a certain level of authority.  Roman officials were divided into two classes: those who had the power of life or death, and those who did not.  The sword was the symbol of this greater authority.  In this way, the Lord presents Himself to the church as having life and death authority, authority He possesses in a higher sense than Rome ever dreamed of.

He would remind us that there is no earthly power which supercedes His, no authority which can annul His own.  We are certainly commanded to be good citizens, Romans 13:1-7, but if push comes to shove in a contest between this world and our Lord’s teachings, then our Lord must have the preeminence.  Cf. Acts 4:19.  And remember, Romans 13 was written by a man who lived at the height of the Roman Empire and was not afraid to assert his rights as a citizen.

Our Lord would strengthen the believers of Pergamos against the fear of the human sword by the greater fear of His own sword.  Also, He would remind them of His power against His, and their, enemies.  The Lord did not want His people to forget Him in the midst of troubles.

3. Contents of the Epistle, vs. 13-17.

 – A reference to their perilous position, v. 13.

The letter to Smyrna emphasized their sufferings, so the Lord said, “I know your tribulation.”  The letter to Pergamos emphasized their situation as being in the very seat of the Roman government in Asia, hence in a place of special danger, so Jesus said, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”

The citizens at Pergamos were known as “chief temple-keepers of Asia.”  A Babylonian cult called the Magians, being driven out of Babylon, found a haven in Pergamos.  The title of the Magian High Priest was “Chief Bridge Builder,” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts.  It was acknowledged as the highest priestly office in paganism and was a title held by Roman Emperors, including Constantine, who kept it.  In Latin, this title is Pontifex Maximus.  (Who, today, bears that title?)

“you hold fast to My name.”

The Lord commends His people for their faithfulness to His name in the very center of the worship of the emperor’s name.  This is especially important in view of the problems in the church with some who seem to have wanted to compromise with that worship.  We note that it wasn’t the name of the church or the name of the pastor which was lifted up, but the name of the Lord Jesus.  Baptists aren’t the only ones who emphasize a denominational name, instead of that of the Lord Jesus.  And how many pastors, etc., want to “make a name” for themselves?  As a young man, I worked for a pastor who required that my car carry a sign urging people to “hear (his name).”  There were some wonderful people in that church and I was privileged to know and work among them, but they were woefully untaught in the things of God.

It’s still true that not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends, 2 Corinthians 10:18.

– A Rebuke of Their Perverse Practices, vs. 14, 15.

1. the doctrine of Balaam, v. 14.  Cf. Numbers 22-25.  Balaam was the one who taught Balak to seduce Israel by tempting them to break God’s law against idolatry and immorality.  It seems there were some in the church at Pergamos who saw nothing wrong with going to pagan temples, where gross immorality was part of their “worship.”  Perhaps it was simply to escape persecution, perhaps merely to make it easier to make a living in that world of pervasive paganism.  When religion was ungodly, Satan persuaded men that it ought to affect every part of their lives.  Now that Christ has revealed the true religion, which is to make men holy, Satan persuades men to limit it to an hour or so on Sunday.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who had a similar problem, that they were not to have fellowship with demons, 1 Corinthians 10:20.  We’re to separate from all sorts of falsehood, regardless of the reasons given for it.  Some of the believers at Pergamos seem to have forgotten this.

2. the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, v. 15.  What was isolated deeds in Ephesus, 2:6, was doctrine or practice in Pergamos.  In a city as government-oriented as Pergamos, such a development perhaps is not surprising,  But again, we see Satanic contradiction.  In the state, which is to govern men, we find a rebellion against authority and the desire to be free of all restraint, while in the church, which is to be self-governing and independent, we see the development of great denominational structures which drown out the voice and vote of the local assembly.  Constantine was probably as responsible for this as anyone because he made it fashionable, even mandatory, to be a “Christian” and gave the bishops great position and power.

– A Repetition of a Peremptory Prerequisite, v. 16.

Repent….

It’s not enough that things are done because everyone is doing it, or that’s how we’ve always done it.  Things must be done in according with the Word of God.  Granted, there’s a lot in our world that the Word says nothing about, for example, the laptop on which I write these words or the car out in the driveway.  I don’t think that means that God expects us to go back to laborious hand-copying of things on parchment or riding on donkeys and camels.  It isn’t so much what something is, as how it’s used.  For example:  again, the computer.  A marvelous invention, yet the most popular websites are pornographic.  Because of that, should we get rid of all computers?  1 Corinthians 10:31 is still true, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Concluding some instructions covering various situation in life, Paul also wrote, and those who use this world as not misusing it, 1 Corinthians 7:31.  We have to live in this world, but we’re not supposed to forget that we’re going to have to live in the next one, as well.

Christ wants us to clear out the “leaven” of this world in our worship and service of Him.  He tells the church to repent.

– A Revelation of Precious Promises, v. 17.

1. Again, the promise isn’t made to every professed believer, but only to those who “overcome.”  Now, this doesn’t mean some sort of perfection, or some sort of exclusive “club” which only the very best are able to join.  It means those who are faithful to the Lord Himself, not just to some church or other organization.

2. the rewards.

There’s a lot of discussion about what these various things mean.  Based on the circumstances of each church and letter, here’s what we think.

the hidden manna.  Believers have a source of nourishment and strength this world knows nothing about and can do nothing either to supplement or hinder.  This is a promise of “resource.”

– a white stone. – a “tessara”.  Such stones seem to have had several uses.  The one relevant to Pergamos was probably the judicial one.  A black stone indicated guilt; a white stone, innocence.  The believers at Pergamos, and other believers, were being found guilty of atheism because they refused to offer incense to the Emperor’s statue.  Our Lord says He finds the overcomer innocent, regardless of what men might say.  This is a promise of reconciliation, that those who once were enemies of God and rebels against His rule are now His servants, yes, even become His children, as we see in the final promise.

– a new name.  This idea occurs a couple of other times in Scripture.  Perhaps the best known is Paul, whose name originally was Saul.  There’s an example of this in the Old Testament, as well.  In Isaiah 62:4, Israel is given a new name.  In both cases, this change signifies a change in relationship, a permanent and irrevocable change.

To this church, who lived in constant danger of losing their lives, our Lord promises everlasting life

We also have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, 2 Peter 1:4.