'And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.' (Luke 24:25-27)

Friday, 1 December 2006

The Ancient of Days and the Son of Man: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

So here goes on the first sermon on the site. Preached last Sunday in Dromore Cathedral.

America and Britain should get out of Iraq immediately. That is the opinion of some observers, who think that the activities of the two countries are a form of empire building – seeking to extend their power and authority. It is a big question, after all, although perhaps more so for America than Britain, as it tries to be the world’s policeman.

Is there anyone in charge of the world? Can the kingdoms – or empires of today do as they wish? Is there any higher authority which can decide what is fair?

The Book of Daniel is a popular one for Christians. It is, after all, a rich mine of stories for Sunday School, and for the rest of us as well. There we find Daniel in the lion’s den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Yet these stories, and others, are found in the first half of the book – up to chapter six.

It might well be as far as we get when we read it through – before we encounter strange visions of beasts and creatures, kings and angels. When we reach chapter seven, then, most of us either struggle through, not really understanding what we’re reading, or else consigning it to oblivion or the conspiracy theorists who seek to interpret the prophecies for us.

However, with these few words of introduction, we find that out Old Testament reading today is from Daniel 7. What should we do? Will we ignore it, or will we work at it, to see what God is saying through his word?

Sadly, the lectionary – or rather, the people who design the lectionary – have chosen to give us only a few verses of Daniel 7 for our reading. If you have a Bible with you, you’ll find it useful to look at Daniel 7. And if not, then try and bring a Bible in future!

As the chapter opens, Daniel first notes that he had a vision, then he begins to describe it. Here we find the strange beasts we talked about earlier – one like a lion with eagle’s wings (4); another like a bear (5); another like a leopard (6), and the fourth which isn’t described – except that it is ‘terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong’ (7). From this fourth beast, there comes ten horns, and then another which has a mouth ‘speaking great things’ (8) – or as the NIV puts it, ‘a mouth that spoke boastfully.’

Is your imagination running wild? Are you picturing these strange beasts? What could they be? Thankfully, we are not left on our own to decide what these beasts and horns could be. Later in the chapter, Daniel is granted the explanation. The beasts, from verse 17, are ‘four kings who shall arise out of the earth.’ That is, these beasts are kingdoms, or empires. The horns, then, are ten kings who arise in the last kingdom – with another king coming after them.

It is as the great king of the fourth kingdom speaks boastfully, that we arrive at the start of our reading. In the midst of all the political dealings and empire building on earth, then, ‘thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.’

While the drama of the earth takes place, with its pomp and politics, another ruler is seated on the throne high above. The ‘Ancient of Days’. Who could this be? Surely this is God Almighty himself.

Notice the glory of the Ancient of Days – his clothing as white as snow, and his hair like pure wool. His throne is fiery flames, and its wheels were burning flame. Truly, Hebrews 12:29 can tell us ‘our God is a consuming fire’. Do you see the purity, the holiness of God? His clothes being white as snow – cleaner than Daz or Surf could ever get them, and fire – that which purifies and refines? The fire even issues out in a stream before him.

Yet he is not alone – we see here a glimpse of the throne-room of God, the centrepiece of heaven, where ‘a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand time ten thousand stood before him.’ What a vast number of angels, standing before him and serving him.

But notice that it is not just the throne-room of heaven we see here. Nor is it just the place where the worship takes place. Further, it is a court room. ‘The courts sat in judgement, and the books were opened.’ Our God who rules, our holy God who receives the worship of thousands and thousands, is also the God of justice – sitting in judgement in the highest high court.

And what is the judgement? These are the verses we missed from the middle of the reading – but the judgement is against the boasting beast, and the other beasts. The kingdoms of this world, and the nations are under the judgement of God – yes, to us now the government may seem impressive and all-powerful, as they make laws for us and affect our lives in so many ways. Yet they are under the ultimate authority and judgement of God.

Yet Daniel’s vision isn’t over. There is more to be seen, and to be thought about. I said earlier that the Ancient of Days was not alone, and that was true – after all, the thousands of angels are present with him. And yet, there was someone missing. In verse 9 we noted that thrones were set in place… yet only the Ancient of Days sat down. There is an empty throne. Who would fill it?

Suddenly, Daniel sees the only possible candidate. ‘Behold, with the clouds of heaven, then came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.’ To us, as we read these words, it is obvious who they point to. After all, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses it to describe himself 28 times. There, he speaks of the ‘Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28), and when asking the disciples who they think he is, uses the title ‘Son of Man’ (Matt 16:13).

The phrase points to the humanity of Jesus – as can be seen if you even browse the book of Ezekiel – the phrase is used there 93 times, to describe Ezekiel – as God talks to him, calling him ‘son of man.’

And what happens to the Son of Man, the man, who is presented before the Ancient of Days? Will he also be consumed with fire from the throne? Will he be judged by the Almighty Judge?

No! Rather, ‘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.’

The vacant throne is taken, given to this Son of Man by the Ancient of Days. He shares in the glory of God, as he shares in the reign of the universe. Notice that all peoples, nations and languages will serve him – this Son of Man claims the allegiance of all people, whether they choose to worship him or not.

Our passage this morning has echoes of Philippians 2 – even as we see the contrast. The boastful king of the fourth kingdom was cut down in judgement, whereas Jesus, the humble king, was exalted and glorified. ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil 2:9-11).

Notice also, that this kingdom, once taken by the son of man – by Jesus – isn’t going to pass away like the kingdoms of earth. With the judgement of God in verses 11 and 12, the power of the empires was taken away. Or, in more recent history, think of the British Empire – that proud institution which lasted so long, and covered so much or the earth. It too has now all but vanished.

But the kingdom of Christ ‘is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’ As our New Testament reading in Revelation 1 tells us, the kingdom has arrived – Christ is enthroned and reigning. The everlasting dominion has begun, and will not end. It is here to stay.

The question and challenge this morning is therefore – what will you do with this son of man? Do you recognise Jesus as your king? Or will you reject him as king now, living as you please? Because, either way, as Philippians reminds us, every knee will bow and every tongue confess him as king. As the song ‘come, now is the time to worship’ reminds us –

‘One day every tongue will confess you are God,
One day every knee will bow,
Still the greatest treasure remains
For those who gladly choose you now.’

The kingdoms and powerful nations of earth are not all powerful. There is one who is judging and ruling over them. That one is the son of man, who took the throne with the Ancient of Days. Will you submit to his rule, and come into his kingdom today?

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Over to you now. What do you think? How could it be improved? To get you started, I know the application wasn't the best - but did the sermon get the message of the text across?