Live audio recording of the lessons and sermon:
Sermon Text: Daniel 7:9-14
Date: November 8 & 9, 2014
Last Judgment (End Time 2) A
Daniel 7:9–14 (ESV)
“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. 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.
“I saw in the night visions,
and 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.
The Ancient of Days Sits in Judgment
Out of sight, out of mind. I try to use that little trick at home. If candy is sitting out in a dish in the kitchen, I’m probably going to eat some as I pass by; if it’s in the cabinet, it’s far more likely to stay there. Sometimes, though, do we treat Judgment Day like the candy that’s in the cabinet, something that is there, but maybe we try to forget that it’s there, that it’s coming?
In Daniel’s vision this morning the reality of Judgment Day is unavoidable, and perhaps in the vivid picture language that God employs with this vision it’s at least a little bit scary. But as Jesus assured us in the Gospel, we have no need to fear, because the Ancient of Days is going to sit in judgment, but as he does so we have confidence in the verdict.
To really understand what is going on here in Daniel’s vision we need to backup just a little bit and get some context. Daniel is living in exile in the land of Babylon. Because of her constant unfaithfulness to him, God sentenced Judah to be exiled to Babylon for 70 years. In the midst of those 70 years, Daniel and his associates had a lot of run-ins with the authorities. We saw last week in our Sunday afternoon service how Daniel had been thrown to the lions because he refused to pray to the king and only prayed to God, and yet God protected him.
During this time, God also sent many visions to Daniel, using a lot of imagery not unlike we find in the book of Revelation. Many of them were glimpses of what was to come, often from a macro view. In chapter 2, Daniel received a vision of a great statue made of several pieces that depicted the current and upcoming world superpowers that would come. And in the earlier verses of Chapter 7, just prior to our text for this morning, Daniel once again receives a similar vision, though with more detail. He sees four beasts coming out of the sea, a winged-lion who would represent Babylon whose time in power was soon to end; a bear, a picture of the Medes and Persians who would overthrow the Babylonians as the world power and return Judah to Jerusalem and the surrounding area; a leopard with two sets of wings, who would be the swift moving Alexander the Great ushering in the Greek empire; and finally a beast that had no animal counterpart but was only described as being terrifying and having iron teeth, which would be none other than the Roman empire who would eventually stomp its way through much of the known world conquering everything in its path.
Why the emphasis on the coming world powers, looking up to several hundred years into the future, even beyond Jesus’ life? Because God’s people are sitting in exile and they’ve been there long enough that it’s easy to start to wonder if God really meant what he promised about bringing his people back home. It’s easy to think that maybe he had forgotten about them, or maybe he was just a fable and old wives’ tale in the end that had no basis in reality. Daniel’s visions are, in part, a reminder that not only is God real, not only is God powerful, but everything that he’s said is going to come to pass—even Judgment Day.
For as powerful as those four beasts were and for as terrifying each of them might have been in their own right, nothing even comes close to the description of God that we get here in vv. 8-9: the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him. I don’t know about you, but a man, gleaming white, sitting on a flaming throne, presiding over an entire river of fire is not someone or something I’d want to ever meet in my life.
And yet this is the God whom we will stand before in judgment. There’s no avoiding it. Daniel’s clear in his accounting here: the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. There is going to be judgment taking place here. When the Ancient of Days speaks, you listen; when he judges, there’s no going back on that judgment. There are no appeals in God’s court; all decisions are final.
And one of the worst things about this picture of God’s judgment is that our conscience jumps at this picture, wildly points its finger and says, “SEE?! I TOLD YOU SO!” Our conscience is that voice that reminds us to feel bad every time we’ve done something wrong. We may try to silence that voice, or dull it to the point that it doesn’t really care what we do. But in the end, the conscience can read the law that God has written onto each of our hearts, and it knows there’s punishment for sin. And so, when it sees a judge sitting on a throne over a river of fire the conscience says, “Yes, that seems about right.”
And the nauseating thing about what the conscience says is that it’s right. This is what we deserve. God promised Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that if they ate fruit from the forbidden tree, they would certainly die. And this fiery judge with his flaming judgment, this is the death that God had in mind. Not a peaceful heart attack in sleep; not a long, painful fight with cancer. No, eternal death, everlasting suffering in the fires of hell. To sin against the eternal God brings eternal punishment on that sinner. And that’s each and every one of us.
And so what do you say? What could you possible do to change any of this? There’s not enough water in the universe to extinguish a flame like that. There’s no way to change our status. We’re guilty, and there’s no plea bargain, there’s no way to bring the charges down to a misdemeanor. In this court either you’re perfect or your not, and if you’re not it means capital punishment.
And we see those powerful beasts, the nations who had ruled the world, stripped of their power and their dignity. Some exist for a while, but the fourth beast especially is sent into that awful fire. The Ancient of Days rules all things and endures all things. If not even the mighty Roman Empire can stand up against the authority of God, then what chance do we possibly have? The books are open; our deeds are recorded there, and in them is recorded sin after sin after sin that we cannot deny and we cannot get away from. There is nothing good in those books about us at all.
Or is there?
In theater there is a term to describe a frequent plot trope, the deus ex machina, the “god from the machine.” In ancient theater, often times the characters were faced with impossible problems that had no solution, when suddenly a god-character would be lowered in a machine, a crane or lift of some sort to come and magically and convolutedly solve all of the characters’ problems. A deus ex machina of sorts comes onto the scene in Daniel’s vision here, but it is not a god lowered by a machine, but the God, coming on clouds of heaven.
We’re told that 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. This person is different from the four beasts that came before him—as different as mankind is from the animals. Who is this man that appears on these clouds and dares to approach the terrifying Ancient of Days and is even granted an audience with him? We do well to make use of the rest of Scripture:
And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:60-62)
When [Jesus had finished speaking with his disciples], as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:7-11)
Or consider even our Gospel for this morning:
[Jesus said,] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32)
This section of Daniel may not be super familiar to us, but it certainly was to Jesus. He referred to it over and over again. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that the Jewish leaders wanted him to be gone because this prophecy, and others like it, foretelling the coming of one looking like a son of a man is wearing a deceptive garb. For the appearance of a man hid the glory of God. These prophecies foretold the coming of the divine Messiah, and in making use of that name, referencing these events, Jesus was not only claiming to be that long-promised Savior, but even God himself. For who could stand in the presence of the Ancient of Days but someone who shared his holiness and his power?
In Daniel’s vision, the son of man is given authority, unimaginable power. The four beasts, powerful as they were, ruled for a finite time before the next beast came up or before they were completely destroyed. But this would not hold true for the son of man: 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.
Why? What is so special about this man? What had he done to deserve such things? Once again, we can draw on what the rest of Scripture tells us about this man. A few weeks ago at our voter’s meeting Steve Powers mentioned how often Bible Class can have an impact on our understanding of worship, and here we have a connection between our Monday evening class on Revelation and this lesson from Daniel that I couldn’t have planned better if I had tried. Because the songs of praise in Revelation not only echo these sentiments but also even explain why this son of man was given this power:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:9-10, 12-13).
Consider also what the Apostle Paul says about Jesus in Philippians 2:
[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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. (Philippians 2:6-11)
This is no new dictator, judge, and tormentor for sinners. This son of man is the Savior of the nations. This son of man is the one who would make peace between the sinful race of mankind and that imposing Ancient of Days. This son of man will usher in an eternal era of calm. He receives power and authority because he had completed his task. In John’s vision in Revelation he sees a different spin on Jesus—here presented not as one like the son of man, but as a lamb, looking like it had been killed; but now it is alive again! Jesus served as the one sacrifice sins—the Lamb of God as John the Baptist called him—to rescue us. And that completed mission of mercy is the reason he is given all authority and power.
That then turns Judgment Day on its head. Before, the thought of approaching the Ancient of Days, having those books opened that contained our sins would have terrified us. But now, because of what Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Son of Man, has done for us, when you look in those books, and when you find the pages of your sins, they are blank. They’ve been blotted out, forgotten forever. In fact, the only book that makes any mention of your name or mine is the Book of Life, the book containing the names of all those who will spend eternity with God. In this book, your name is written, and mine is as well. It’s written not in the sweat and strength that we’ve exerted in this life, but in the blood of Jesus, our Savior.
And at this, the Ancient of Days smiles and we realize that he is not the overbearing, terrifying judge that we had he feared. He’s our heavenly Father, whose flames of judgment have been completely extinguished. There is no fear of hell from God, but only the embrace of his love, for the sake of Jesus. Judgment day is real, is coming, and it will mean the beginning of everlasting life with our God who loves us, gave himself for us, and has made us holy. Thanks be to God! Amen.