Text: Daniel 7
In three days, we will finally experience blessed relief from the unending phone calls, mailings, and advertisements telling us about how dire the other candidate would be and how idyllic this candidate will be if elected. The polls will be closed, the tallies counted, and the country will take a collective sigh as we weigh what the results will mean until the next cycle starts. Hopefully that will wait at least until everyone is inaugurated first!
Time will march on. Those elected will serve, for better or for worse. And another election will come. In the meantime, there will be successes and failures. There will be triumphs and catastrophes. There will be wars and rumors of war. There will be steps of progress toward peace and heartbreaking slides backwards. Money will be made, money will be spent well, and money will be wasted. Jobs will be created, and others will be lost. Things and property will be manufactured, bought and sold. Taxes of some variety will be paid in some amount. Babies will be born, and friends, relatives, and loved ones will be buried.
For many eastern religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and their derivatives, this is simply the wheel of life. It is unending in its unrelenting spin. For those belief systems, the ultimate salvation is to be freed from the drudgery of the wheel and to make an escape into the emptiness that some of their adherents call Nirvana. Life is nothing but a circle that repeats ad nauseum. So kings or presidents or chieftains or mayors or whatever we call them are elected, appointed, or coronated. It is nothing of significance. It has all happened before, and it will all happen again in one form or fashion.
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes also believed that there was nothing new under the sun. All was meaningless, because all that is done has been done before. Indeed, leaders have been made and appointed, born and coronated, deposed and set aside. And so with the rest of these. There is some truth to the claim of those Eastern religions. But there is only some truth, and it is mixed with much error.
For the Bible, God’s revelation to us about Himself and ourselves, is clear on this point. Life is not a wheel. We are not going in circles. We do not get a second chance at the life that we live now. Things do repeat. There is nothing new to be done under the sun. But we are new; we are different. We are not some being trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation to be escaped from into some emptiness outside of life. This is no wheel in which we live. It is an arrow.
The thing about arrows is that they have direction. There is movement towards one point and away from another. An arrow leaves its bow and shoots towards its mark. It always happens this way, never in reverse. Arrows have direction. And life is an arrow. It is a movement away from one point and towards another. That movement is not from one president to the next, from one Congress to the next, or from one election to the next.
So what is the movement of this arrow we are on?
The Bible begins with the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, but the arrow really doesn’t get moving until chapter 3, when everything goes haywire as Adam and Eve choose to eat that forbidden fruit. The next 1,186 chapters of the Bible are a description of the arrow as God directs the world and all of its people on its path to its destination. In the middle of these, Daniel 7 is this prophet’s vision of the movement of that arrow all the way through to when it finally hits its target.
It is easy, particularly after the last number of decades, to get caught up in numbers and trying to, like Harold Camping, figure out the exact timing of the end of the arrow’s journey. Let me be clear and say that dating is not the point of Daniel 7, or the chapters yet to come when even more specific numbers are given. Jesus makes it clear that no one except God the Father knows the date of the end of days. Even Jesus did not know. But Daniel 7 does paint a picture for us of the journey along the way. So what does earth’s arrow have to teach us?
One, there will be kingdoms, nations, and empires, and they will come, and they will go. Daniel’s vision of the four beasts clearly echoes the vision of the statue he had interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2. As in that chapter, scholars and preachers have come to a consensus that these kingdoms represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Daniel’s description of them seems easy to correlate with what we know of these empires from history.
There are differences of opinion whether or not Rome is represented by the fourth beast. I think it is problematic to equate Rome with the last beast, because the destruction of the last beast is done by the triumphant son of man. When we look around at our world now, there is nothing left of Rome. It has already been decimated and destroyed. The western portion was conquered in the late fifth century. It’s successor, the Holy Roman Empire, was dissolved with the abdication of Francis II during the reign of Napoleon in 1806. Nothing is left of it.
The eastern half, which was largely unaffected by the collapse of the west and continued as the Roman Empire, persisted as what historians now call the Byzantine Empire for another thousand years, until it was finally subsumed into the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Even that empire has since been dissolved and broken at the end of WWI. There is nothing left of the Roman Empire or its successors that carry anything like the fearsomeness of the fourth beast.
So, instead of matching each beast with a specific kingdom or empire, I think it is better to say that the vision points to a continuing cycle of the rise and fall of successive kingdoms and empires, each progressively worse than the previous. We have seen that continuation. Venice, Portugal, Spain, France, and England each took a turn at world domination in one way or another. Nazi Germany unleashed unspeakable horrors. And it is our own American hegemony that has seen the introduction of the ability to literally destroy the world in a nuclear apocalypse that actually nearly happened in 1963.
I think the point of Daniel 7 is simply to say that the kingdoms will continue to come. They will continue to succeed one another. And second, continuing the thought of these kingdoms, Daniel 7 tells us that it is the continuing work of these empires to move not toward God, but away from Him. This culminates in the fourth beast, who is even able to sway the saints of God. That idea is repeated by Jesus and John, that even the elect might be drawn into the evil schemes of these world empires.
It is no wonder then that America has been on this apparent descent away from moral, and we would even say Christian, moorings. We have watched the slide and seem powerless to stop it. That’s because in many ways, we are powerless. This is the path of the arrow that sees these kingdoms and empires move ever away from God. Our own country’s descent is a strange comfort in light of Daniel 7 that the rest of the vision will also come true.
The rest of the vision says two more things. Third, in the end, there will be one, final, lasting, enduring, eternal kingdom over which will be the son of man, who is Jesus. This son of man comes from the Ancient of Days, an expression that means the creator God, and He sits on God’s throne. Jesus appropriated this title to himself; it was his favorite way to refer to himself in the gospels. Jesus will come, overthrow the fourth beast – whoever and whatever it is – and will establish his own kingdom that will never end or be overthrown. This is the destination of the arrow – to see mankind’s final and utter expression of evil and rebellion undone and conquered by the Christ. The moral decay and decline of America is just another testimony in the succession of human empires that the Son of Man’s kingdom will be our end.
And what an end it will be for the saints of God! For the fourth thing Daniel 7 teaches and reveals to us is that those who are God’s saints – who call on him, believe in him, worship him, obey him, serve him, and are redeemed and made righteous by him – these saints – WE saints – will receive this kingdom as a gift, too. We will live in it, rule in it under the Son of Man, sit in judgment in it, thrive in it. And we will do this for all of eternity.
These are the lessons of this chapter, a succession of ever more evil kingdoms that will be overthrown by the Son of Man who will welcome his saints into it. But what does Daniel 7 and the arrow it describes really tell us about today, about Tuesday, and about America’s future? Most simply, it says that this, too, shall pass. No matter who wins the elections for the various offices and levels of government all across our land on Tuesday, it will not change the course of the arrow. There is coming a day when America, too, shall pass away. We need not be surprised when our government moves away from God. That is merely the arrow’s path as Daniel foresaw. And while we should vote, and I encourage all of you to do so, as Christians we vote knowing that democracy in America is not our end. Absolute, theocratic monarchy under Jesus is. And we look forward with greatest excitement to that day.
You see, the election that matters most is not the one that will be hashed out on November 6th. Despite what some may say, the races we have been bombarded by the last weeks and months is not the most vital election of our lifetime or any lifetime. The election of a lifetime happens when we choose whether or not to surrender, submit, and accept that Jesus, the Son of Man, is our Savior, our Lord, our Champion, our King. When we encounter and acknowledge His glory and the glory of His kingdom, then we have cast our ballot in the only election that matters.
Daniel foresaw a succession of beasts leading up to one final horrific one. But those beasts do not go by the name of Obama or Romney or Allen or Kaine or Hurt or Douglass. Our choices on Tuesday matter, but they do not matter nearly as much as we fool ourselves into believing. We will not stop, alter, or change the arrow that Daniel lays out. We are marching headlong into a chaotic and fearsome beastly time unlike anything anyone has ever known or will know again. Daniel was alarmed by the vision he saw, his color changed when he thought about it. But it was not over this election we are facing this week. It was over a beast who is still yet to make his (or her!) appearance.
Do not cling to a flag or a document written by men. Cling to God, to His Son, and to the hope we have when the final beast is overthrown and the last empire stakes its claim at the return of the king.