Summary: Daniel's vision gives us clarity regarding our present and the future.
Take a look at this picture. It’s an illustration of the scene from our Gospel lesson this morning where Jesus was standing before the Roman governor Pilate. Now let me ask you this question. Who’s in charge here? Is it Pilate who sits on his throne with expensive clothes and the authority of the Roman Empire behind him? Or is it the beaten and bloodied Jesus who is standing there with hands bound? Wouldn’t most conclude that Pilate is the one in charge? But as Christians we know that even then Jesus was the one in charge. He was allowing himself to be put on trial so that Pilate would condemn him to death, and through that death Jesus would free us all from sin and give us the promise of everlasting life.
But not even Jesus’ disciples thought that he was in charge on that Good Friday morning. It’s also something we struggle to believe when we look at all the evil going on in this world. When ISIS agents can casually walk into Paris and kill over a hundred people in a night, and when Boko Haram agents in Nigeria can set off a bomb at a bus station killing over thirty people we wonder, “Who’s in charge here? Lord, I thought you were!” This morning we’re going to look at a vision God gave to the prophet Daniel. This vision gives us clarity regarding the present and the future. It assures us that our Lord Jesus is always in charge.
This vision came to Daniel when the prophet was about 75 years old. Daniel saw four beasts come out of the sea. The first beast looked like a lion with wings and represented the kingdom of Babylon. That was the kingdom in power when Daniel received this vision. The second beast looked like a bear that was gnawing on some ribs. It represented the Medo-Persians who succeeded the Babylonians. After the bear came a leopard with four heads and four wings characterizing the empire of Greece and Alexander the Great. Finally the most terrifying beast of them all, one with the power to destroy everything in sight, stepped out of the ocean. This beast symbolized the Roman Empire.
One thing these empires all had in common was their origin. They all came from the sea. This was God’s way of telling Daniel that these kingdoms, as terrifying as they seemed, were only earthly kingdoms and therefore limited in power. In contrast to the earthly powers, Daniel saw “one like a son of man” riding on the clouds of heaven to whom was given all power. Who was this individual from heaven? It was Jesus. We know this because Jesus called himself the Son of Man 72 times in the New Testament.
Unlike the earthly empires which were described as horrible beasts that shed blood wherever they went, there was nothing frightening about Jesus’ appearance. He wouldn’t shed the blood of others and wreak havoc. Instead he would shed his own blood to bring peace to all. That’s why Jesus meekly subjected himself to Pilate’s authority so that he could accomplish his mission of giving his life to pay for the sins of the world.
Understanding Jesus’ mission will help us make sense of what we see happening in the world now. You see Jesus didn’t come to give us freedom from sickness and trouble, or to make us rich. He didn’t even come to bring peace on earth—at least not the kind of peace the world is looking for. Many want peace so they can do whatever they want. But that doesn’t lead to lasting peace. The reason for that is because there is a day of judgment coming when we will have to answer for all of our thoughts and actions. Take a look at what else Daniel saw in his vision. “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him… ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9, 10).
The Ancient of Days is, of course, God the Father. Does that title make God sound like he’s weak and feeble and stooped with age? Isn’t that how many people picture God? They see him as a kindly grandfather who really doesn’t know or care what’s going on among his grandchildren. Although the white hair may further the impression that God is old and the wheels on his throne may make it sound like he’s sitting in a wheelchair, the river of fire emanating from his throne tell us that God is no weakling. He is the authority in the universe. Sure he looks old but that’s because he is. He’s been around forever, literally. That means that there’s no chance of fooling him, of pulling the wool over his eyes when we stand before his judgment throne. He’s seen all the tricks. He knows what we’ve all been up to. And his throne, by the way, is not a wheelchair; it’s a chariot. So there’s no running from God.