The Kingdom of the Son of Man and the Saints

The Kingdom of the Son of Man and the Saints Dan. 7:9-10, 13-14, 18, 21-22, 26-28 I. Intro: The Easter Glory of the Son of Man Try to imagine being there on that very first Easter Sunday. The Gospelwriters describe a number of emotions as people reacted to the discovery and news of the empty tomb where Jesus’s dead body had been laid on Friday evening. Luke says the women “found the stone rolled away,” but “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus,” and “they were perplexed.” Mark says “they were alarmed.” When they saw angels, Luke says “they were frightened.” After the angel told them Jesus has risen, Matthew says “they departed…with fear and great joy.” Mark says that “trembling and astonishment had seized them, and…they were afraid.” When the women told the apostles and a group of other disciples what they had seen, Luke says that the women’s testimony “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” But, then, famously, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves, and then Luke says that Peter “went home marveling at what had happened.” John reports his own reaction as simply, “he saw and believed.” Mary of Magdala seemed to still be in disbelief; as she wandered around the tomb, Jesus himself approached her, and it seems that her intense weeping prevented her from recognizing him. Then, as Jesus came to the apostles, directly demonstrating that he was alive, John says they “were glad when they saw the Lord.” But my favorite story from that day is how Jesus appeared to the two disciples traveling to Emmaus, recorded for us in Luke 24:13-35. These two had heard the women’s report, and then they decided to leave Jerusalem and travel on to Emmaus. As they were walking along, they were discussing the events of the weekend, and a man approached them and began walking with them. This man asked them what they had been discussing. Luke describes their initial reaction to this man in verse 17: “And they stood still, looking sad.” Then, they addressed the man with shock, wondering how it could be possible for someone walking out of Jerusalem along this road on this day who wasn’t aware of all that had transpired over the weekend! The man asks them to fill him in. Their response begins in the middle of verse 19, and I’ll quote their summary in full. “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” These men are sad, disappointed, and the testimony of the women has stunned them, and now they don’t seem to know what to believe. The man responds with a rebuke and a question, which I’m sure these two men were not expecting. Up to this point, these two men think they’re educating this man, informing him of what went on over the weekend. And they do give an accurate blow-by-blow account of the events, but they do not understand the significance of these things. The man’s response is recorded in verses 25-26: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” They were eyewitnesses of the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, but they were too foolish and their hearts were too slow to believe the Scriptures! They said that they had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel; they had hoped he’d be the Messiah. But this man chastises them! Notice that it wasn’t that they didn’t believe the events they had witnessed, or that they didn’t believe the testimony of the others about the empty tomb. They didn’t understand what their Bible said the Redeemer of Israel must do. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” The angel had more gently pointed this out to the women at the tomb, but instead of pointing them to Scripture, the angel reminded them of what Jesus himself had told them. Luke 24:6-7 records the gentle instruction from the angel, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” The word “must” in the angel’s statement is the same word translated “necessary” in the man’s chastising question on the Emmaus Road. Luke summarizes what happened next on the Emmaus Road in verse 27. What must have been the most amazing Bible study ever began: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Many have said that they wish they could’ve heard the contents of this teaching. But Luke hasn’t recorded that for us, and I think there’s an important reason. The Lord really does want us to take responsibility for our understanding of Scripture. He’s given us the key here, to help us know how to read the Bible, but he hasn’t given us “the answer key,” so to speak. Instead, he’s encouraging all of us to open our Bibles and read them with a desire to discover “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” We should be reading the Bible “through the Jesus lens.” When Jesus later visited with the apostles again, he combined the statement of the angel at the tomb with his own instruction to the two on the Emmaus Road. We read in Luke 24:44, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” There’s that word “must” again. The focus points of Jesus’s summary to the two on the Emmaus Road was the Messiah’s suffering and his entrance “into his glory.” What manner of “glory” is this? It certainly has something to do with his resurrection; God raised him from the dead with a “body of glory” or “glorious body,” as Paul describes it in Philippians 3:21. Let’s consider, just for a moment, Jesus’s glory in the Gospel of Luke. There are three different events associated with Jesus’s glory. There’s his resurrection, which we just looked at in Luke 24. Back in Luke 9:26, “his glory” is connected with Jesus’s return. Jesus had said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Just a few verses after this, there’s one more reference to Jesus’s glory, and it has to do with his Transfiguration. Right after Jesus speaks of his future return at the end of history, in Luke 9:27 he adds, “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we read this statement from Jesus, and the next thing all three Gospel-writers tell us about is Jesus’s Transfiguration. Matthew’s statement is the fullest; in Matthew 16:28, we read, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Note the association here between Jesus’s glory and Jesus’s kingdom, which is the kingdom of God. Now, back in Luke 9:29, we read, “And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” Then, in verse 32, we read, “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” It seems that this is what Jesus was referring to. Peter, James, and John are the ones “standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” but what they see is Jesus’s Transfiguration. I think what we can conclude from this is that the Transfiguration serves as a preview of Jesus’s glory, which will be permanently manifested in his resurrection and his return. But, there’s one other association to tease out. I drew your attention to the connection between Jesus’s glory and Jesus’s kingdom here. In other places, Jesus’s glory is related to his position on the throne at the right hand of God. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 19:28, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” On another occasion, in Mark 10:37, James and John want to sit in the two positions next to Jesus, “in your glory.” That is to say, they want to sit on thrones next to Jesus’s throne when he is enthroned in his glory. Likewise, as Jesus spoke of his return at the end of history in Matthew 25:31, he said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” I wonder if you’ve noticed the language of Daniel 7 in some of these verses? The coming of the Son of Man reflects the coming of “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13. Jesus refers to himself with the title “Son of Man” around 80 times. No one else refers to him by this title. Most of the time, people would’ve heard him use this phrase and probably thought nothing of it. It is an ambiguous phrase that literally simply means “a human being.” There’s even some evidence that a speaker or writer could use the phrase as a poetic or rhetorical way of referring to himself, a literary or rhetorical equivalent of saying “I.” But when you add the word “coming” and talk about a kingdom, Daniel 7:13 would’ve started coming to mind, for those who knew their Bible. Most of the verses we associate with the “coming of the Son of Man” in the Gospels have to do with the Second Coming, Jesus’s future return at the end of history. But could it be that some of them actually have to do with Jesus’s resurrection and enthronement? What does the vision of Daniel 7 itself communicate? Let’s return there now. This Easter Sunday morning, we’re concluding our three-part mini-series looking at Daniel 7, as part of our larger trek through the book of Daniel. The message of the whole chapter is: God rules over the beastly kingdoms of the world, and he will judge the wicked and establish his kingdom for his people through the Son of Man, even as persecution of God’s people increases. Daniel saw this vision that depicted a series of four beasts rising up out of the sea, and a heavenly scene with God on the throne and a humanlike figure approaching God’s throne. Daniel doesn’t understand the meaning of what he’s seeing all by himself, so he asks one of the angels he sees in the heavenly scene in his vision to explain. The angel summarizes the main message of the vision in verses 17-18: “17 These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.” But the heart of the vision is the heavenly scene, the depiction of “one like a son of man” approaching God’s throne and receiving God’s everlasting kingdom, and the interpretation the angel gives highlights the place of God’s people, the saints. We’ve looked at the beasts and the horns and the persecution of the saints. Now let’s look more closely at the heavenly courtroom scene, beginning in verses 9-10. II. 9 The Heavenly Courtroom Scene (Dan. 7:9-10) “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, 10 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. Recall, from verses 8 and 11, surrounding these two verses, Daniel notes that he was hearing the mouth of the little horn on the fourth beast on earth speaking loudly. While that voice was prattling on, Daniel’s attention is drawn to the heavenly scene. The first thing Daniel notes is the presence of thrones, plural. These thrones were not “cast down,” as the King James Version mistakenly has it; rather, Daniel sees them set in their proper place. Who are these thrones for? Later we will see that there appears to be a throne for God, a throne for “one like a son of man,” and thrones for the saints. But, here, at first, only God, the Ancient of Days, sits on his throne. Notice that God’s description is humanlike, as he presents himself in this vision to Daniel’s mind as an old man, not with the weakness and frailty sometimes associated with old age, but with the signs of wisdom, respectability, and high status that often comes with a long life. God depicts himself as wearing white clothing and having white hair, likely symbolizing his absolute purity, his perfect holiness, and his great wisdom. Then, Daniel observes all the fire. We normally associate fire with hell, but here fire is characteristic of the heavenly throne room. God’s throne, apparently distinct from the other thrones, Daniel says “was fiery flames.” God sits on a throne of fire and is not burned! And his throne has wheels; it’s depicted as a mobile chariot, which was common among kings of the ancient world, but the wheels are fire as well. The prophet Ezekiel also received a vision of God’s chariot-throne, depicting God’s glory abandoning the temple in Jerusalem so that it could be destroyed under God’s judgment through the Babylonians. Read Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 to see more intriguing details about the way God depicted his throne to these two prophets. Daniel also observes a stream of fire coming out in front of God and his throne. More literally, this describes a river of fire, and it reminds us of the image of the lake of fire in the book of Revelation. It’s interesting to combine the imagery of water and fire this way: a river of fire, a lake of fire, a body of water made of fire! This fiery imagery sets the backdrop of God’s fiery judgment. Then, Daniel observes a countless multitude of angelic court attendants. Their presence in the vision enhances the glory of the Holy Judge sitting on his central throne. Notice that they are standing, ready to serve at a moment’s notice; they do not sit on the other thrones. Finally, Daniel recognizes the situation as the convening of the heavenly court; Daniel sees the court records, the books, opened up to be reviewed. Apparently, we are to understand these books as recording the deeds that would serve as the evidence that God’s judgment would be based on. It’s time for the verdict to be pronounced! Daniel then returns his attention back to earth, and, as verse 11 indicates, he sees the outworking of the verdict before his eyes. The fourth beast and its loud-mouthed little horn were executed! Then, Daniel turns his attention back to the heavenly courtroom, and he sees the arrival, in heaven, of a humanlike figure! Look at verses 13-14. III. The Arrival of a Humanlike Figure (Dan. 7:13-14) “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. 13 14 Whereas Daniel had seen on earth four beasts, three of which were like animals Daniel knew from nature while the fourth one was in a class by itself, in heaven he sees a figure which was like a human. Why does Daniel describe him like this? I think it’s because a human shouldn’t be in heaven! A human shouldn’t be accompanied by clouds! Everywhere else in the Bible, only God travels with clouds or rides on clouds. Everywhere else in the ancient world, only gods are envisioned as riding clouds. This figure looks like a man but acts like God! Daniel doesn’t have a mental category for what he’s seeing, so he does the best he can to describe it. He is “one like a son of man,” like a descendent of Adam. In our first look at this passage a couple of weeks ago, we observed the connection with Genesis 1 here. The picture Daniel’s given in this vision is all wrong, according to God’s design for creation. Daniel sees beasts having dominion, ruling the world, but God created humanity—Adam and Eve and their descendants—and gave them the right to rule. Adam and Eve were to be God’s vice-regents ruling over the beasts of this world. They gave up their right to rule when they obeyed a beast that spoke, a crafty serpent! Thus, the vision of the beasts is showing what has become of human dominion; it has become beastlike! But God’s design has not been thwarted! Daniel is being shown that God will restore proper dominion to humanity. But, as with all dominion, as with all authority in this world, it must be given by God. That is what Daniel sees in this vision. The one like a son of man “came to the Ancient of Days.” Notice that: he came to the Ancient of Days. This human approached God’s throne. Who could be qualified to approach God’s throne? What human could rightfully approach God’s very throne in heaven? Only a human who can do what God can do, such as ride the clouds! However, there’s also a hint of this human’s humility before God. He “was presented before” the Ancient of Days. He did not force his way in; he did not boastfully march up to the throne like he belonged there. Rather, he enters the heavenly throne room and is escorted to the throne, perhaps by some of the angelic attendants. In verse 14, then, Daniel sees God transfer universal authority over “all peoples, nations, and languages” to this human. The words Daniel uses here reflect Daniel’s own words from chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s words in chapter 4, and Darius’s words in chapter 6, all about God’s own kingdom. It is the eternal kingdom of God that is being handed over to this human in Daniel’s vision. What is going on here? This is the flip-side of verses 9-10. There, the heavenly Judge declared a verdict, a judgment, against the fourth beast. Here, we see that a verdict was also declared for this human being. He is found worthy to rule the kingdom of the world. Now, ordinarily, I’d prefer to go take a look at the angel’s explanation of this portion of the vision. But, since Jesus clearly refers specifically to verses 1314 on some key occasions, I’d like to expand on what he says, and then we’ll return to how the angel of Daniel’s vision expands this. So, let’s look at a few more New Testament passages to fill out our understanding of Jesus’s usage of Daniel 7:13-14. IV. Jesus’s Usage of Daniel 7:13-14 As we looked at earlier, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, but he associates that coming with different events. Most often when we see references to his coming, we assume that it must be referring to his second coming, his return at the end of history. Certainly, when the coming referenced involves angels accompanying him and him executing judgment, he is looking ahead to his return. But there are at least a couple of occasions that are difficult to connect with his future return. For example, consider Matthew 10:23. As Jesus sent out the twelve to preach and heal and cast out demons, he says, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Here, the coming of the Son of Man sure seems like a reference to something that will happen very, very soon, during the lifetime of the disciples and while they were out preaching the gospel in the land of Israel. Jesus’s climactic usage of this language, however, comes during his trial before the high priest, Caiaphas, who had just asked the critical question of Jesus: Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed God? Mark 14:62 records his shocking response, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus draws on the language of Daniel 7:13, the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, sandwiched around a reference to Psalm 110:1, where David’s Lord, David’s future descendant, would be invited to sit enthroned at the right hand of God. Jesus’s answer resulted in the high priest leveling the charge of blasphemy against Jesus. Caiaphas surely would’ve recognized that Jesus was identifying himself as the “one like a son of man” Daniel saw in his vision, and he understood that Jesus was claiming to be a human who could do what God can do, who was worthy to receive universal authority from God, and who had the right to share God’s sovereignty as his vice-regent over everything. But Jesus is saying even more than this. As if this weren’t shocking enough in and of itself, Jesus says to Caiaphas and all the Sanhedrin, “You all will see me take my rightful place.” The “you” in verse 62 is plural, addressing the Jewish leadership more generally. How would they see this? If Jesus is referring to his return at the end of history, then this would be an oblique reference to their facing his judgment at the Great White Throne, after his return, and after the Millennium, described at the end of Revelation 20. Or, Jesus could be referring to his ascension. Now, the Sanhedrin will not be standing with the disciples watching Jesus go up into heaven on a cloud, as described in Acts 1:9. However, they will see the earthly aftermath of Jesus’s ascension. This is where we need to remember the correlation between heaven and earth that we talked about a couple of weeks ago. After the Sanhedrin accuses Jesus of blasphemy, they finagle their way into getting him executed by the Roman authorities (representatives of the fourth kingdom in Daniel’s vision, by the way), and then Jesus will rise from the dead and leave this earth, going up into heaven with a cloud. What happens next? Well, repeatedly in the New Testament we are reminded that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. But how do we know that it’s true, other than believing their word (which is enough)? Is there earthly proof or evidence that would be visible to the Sanhedrin? Yes; in fact, there are two lines of evidence, one I’ll merely mention, and the other will become highly important and relevant for the rest of our discussion of Daniel 7 this morning. The first line of evidence that the Sanhedrin will see that demonstrates that Jesus is sitting on his throne at the right hand of God is the destruction of the temple about 30 years later. Not all of the Sanhedrin will be alive for that, but many would be. The reason this would serve as evidence vindicating Jesus’s claims to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7 is that this was the major topic of Jesus’s interrogation prior to Caiaphas asking the condemning question. The Sanhedrin had sought false testimony against Jesus, and the best they could come up with was different people testifying that they had heard Jesus claim that he’d destroy and rebuild the temple, something he did actually say, but the witnesses couldn’t agree on how he’d said it. And, in a very public way, just days before his trial, he had pronounced judgment against the temple, as he made quite the ruckus in the Court of the Gentiles and blamed the Jewish leadership for transforming the temple into a headquarters for criminals, thus nullifying the purpose of the temple and showing that it was ripe for judgment and destruction. But the second line of evidence is more important. It is the growth and expansion of the kingdom of God on earth. That is to say, the growth of the church, as thousands of Jews became followers of Jesus within weeks of Jesus’s resurrection. When we return to the angel’s words in Daniel 7, we’ll see how crucial this is to understand and how Caiaphas should’ve recognized the growth of the church as vindication of Jesus’s claims. But before we go back there, let me try to make sure I’m clear on what I’m saying here. First and foremost, the coming of the Son of Man is a reference to Jesus’s resurrection and ascension. His enthronement at the right hand of God is what is being depicted in Daniel 7. Back in Daniel 7:13, notice that the one like a son of man is coming to God, not to the earth. If he is a human, then presumably he is coming from earth to heaven. As we looked at last week with the little horn and its possible connection with antichrist, there is an already-not-yet fulfillment of these things. The “already” is that Jesus has already come with the clouds, from earth to heaven, in his ascension. The “not yet,” which Jesus does refer to more frequently, is that the Son of Man will come with the clouds again, and this time he’ll be coming back to earth from heaven. This is indicated by an angel in Acts 1:11. The disciples were standing gazing up into the sky, as Jesus departed from their sight, and the angel says to them, “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.” The coming of the Son of Man is, first and foremost, a coming to God’s throne to be enthroned at his right hand. Then, and only secondarily, can it be viewed as a coming back. Now, let’s go back to Daniel 7 and pick up the angel’s explanation of the heavenly courtroom scene. Look at Daniel 7:18 again. V. The Angel’s Explanation of the Heavenly Courtroom Scene (Dan. 7:18, 21-22, 26-27) 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever. The angel doesn’t refer to “the one like a son of man.” Where we’d expect him to refer to him, he refers instead to “the saints of the Most High.” If this is all we had, we’d have to conclude that the individual Daniel saw in the vision was simply a metaphorical representation of these saints, not really a historical individual at all. But then Daniel adds to his own description of what he saw, in verses 21-22. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. Daniel here clarifies that he did, in fact, see the saints on earth, being attacked and overpowered by the little horn of the fourth beast. But he takes the angel’s explanation and incorporates it into his description in verse 22. He doesn’t mention the “one like a son of man” again; instead, Daniel himself refers to judgment being given “for the saints of the Most High.” So, Daniel apparently understands that the individual who came into heaven and approached God’s throne does indeed represent the saints on earth. With this connection between “the one and the many,” the individual represents the saints, as a king represents his kingdom-citizens. But Daniel goes through this extra description in order to ask the angel for more information about the fourth beast and the little horn, and the angel indicates that, yes, the king represented by the little horn of the fourth beast will oppress the saints on earth “for a time, times, and half a time,” which I argued means nothing more than that the persecution will continue for a period of time that seems long to the people being oppressed, but that God will intervene to bring it to an unexpected end. But, then, in verses 26-27, the angel goes back to the judgment scene in heaven. Look at verses 26-27 again: 26 27 But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ So, the negative judgment is given first. The angel says that the verdict results in the authority or dominion of the king represented by the little horn, and, by implication, of the fourth kingdom itself, being removed. The angel describes its destruction in such a way that seems to allow for a long-term process rather than a sudden stop. Then, the angel comments on the positive side of the judgment, that God gives the universal earthly kingdom to the people who are the saints of the Most High. But then, notice the last part of verse 27; instead of speaking of the plural saints, he uses the singular: “his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” Either the “his” goes back to the Most High, mentioned right there in verse 27, or the “his” could go back to the “one like a son of man” who was depicted in the vision as receiving the kingdom in heaven on behalf of the saints on earth. Both ways of understanding it are true, of course. So, can we pull it all together? What is the nature of the fulfillment of this heavenly vision? VI. The Fulfillment of the Heavenly Vision Daniel sees the Roman Empire that would rise to power about 500 years after his death, depicted as a monstrous beast, indicating God’s perspective on the nature of the Roman Empire in particular, as well as fallen human kingdoms in general. The rise of rulers who would oppress God’s people is depicted by the unexpected rise of a little horn with a big mouth. Several candidates from within the Roman Empire qualify for the designation, but the depiction of another ruler arising from within the Greek Empire as another little horn in chapter 8 leads us to suspect that Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 may intend to portray more of a pattern that recurs throughout history than to identify one specific individual. In the face of the blasphemous oppression of God’s people during the Roman Empire, Daniel sees Jesus approaching God’s throne to be awarded eternal dominion over humanity, as the Last Adam and the Son of David. This happened when Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and took his rightful place on the throne at the right hand of God. The verdict has been announced both against fallen human governments and for Jesus and his followers. The saints who receive the kingdom are God’s holy people, the followers of Jesus, who receive their citizenship in the kingdom of God the moment they begin trusting in Jesus. Indeed, the apostle Paul recognizes that we believers, mysteriously and spiritually but truly, occupy those other thrones in heaven the moment we begin to trust in King Jesus. He writes in Ephesians 2:4-6 some of the most magnificent words about our salvation in the Bible: “4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens to sinners when God saves them! He makes us alive, he resurrects us from our spiritually dead state, and he seats us on these other thrones Daniel saw in his vision! If you’re a Christian today, that all happened to you the moment you began trusting in Jesus! In some mysterious spiritual sense that is more true than your feelings, more true than what your eyeballs can see, more real than the chair you’re sitting in in this room, you, right now, are seated on a throne in heaven! So it is, then, that the outworking of both sides of the verdict takes place in history in stages. Jesus receives universal authority and begins rescuing individuals from the tyranny of the fallen human governments of all nations, but the destruction of fallen human governments awaits Jesus’s return. The historical Roman Empire ended long ago through a number of historical and political and military movements, but it ceased having universal authority over its subjects as soon as it acted to crucify the true king, Jesus. Now that he’s sitting on his throne, he shifts people’s ultimate allegiance to him. For followers of Jesus, Caesar is no longer “lord,” and our primary allegiance is to Jesus and his kingdom. Thus, the power of human kingdoms has been broken, once and for all. Until the final destruction of fallen human government when Jesus returns, there will be tribulation and persecution against God’s people. Some will come from political powers and official persecution of Christians; some will come from within the church, as false teachers and deceivers seek to lead people away from faith in Jesus. Throughout this age, those represented by the imagery of the little horn, the antichrists of history, will have a visible measure of success. All of this will indeed climax at the end of history with a final “man of lawlessness,” a final alliance of Satanic political power with religious deception, centered in an individual who will be actively “wearing out the saints” when Jesus returns. And at that time Jesus will personally execute this man, by merely speaking a word of condemnation, and then the citizens of the kingdom of heaven will share in reigning over this world with the King of Kings, through the Millennium and eternally into the New Creation. VII. Conclusion: The Kingdom of the Son of Man and the Saints Those of you who have been here the last few weeks and have listened to three messages from Daniel 7 have been very gracious and patient. I’ve approached this passage differently than most of you are used to, and I know that’s been hard. I appreciate this congregation so much, because so many of you demonstrate an interest in learning more and a humility that acknowledges that we haven’t got it all figured out. I’m sure I’ve raised lots more questions than I’ve answered for some of you, and many of you are not convinced about many points. That’s okay; thanks for hanging with me anyway! As I said two weeks ago, my disagreements with some popular preachers on the radio about how prophecy and fulfillment works out in Scripture and in history does not in any way imply that we approach the Scriptures with any different beliefs about its authority, inerrancy, or infallibility. And here I must add one more strong point of difference, and it’s one that I admit I feel a very strong frustration about. Many who view this chapter pointing primarily to the rise of a final Antichrist figure at the very end of history and only to Jesus’s second coming also view the saints as only referring to believing Jews, presumably Jews who will believe in Jesus during the so-called seven-year tribulation period at the end of history. I have already indicated that I connect the saints mentioned here explicitly with the church today. I see it as special pleading to restrict the referent of the word “saints” in the Old Testament to either faithful Jews living before Jesus’s first coming or to believing Jews living right before Jesus’s second coming. I believe that the New Testament writers consistently use the word “saints” to refer to Christians primarily because they see these Old Testament prophetic references to “saints” as being fulfilled in the church made up of both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus. We’ve seen how important the vision of Daniel 7 was to Jesus, as he chose the title “Son of Man” to use most often to refer to himself. But this vision also has other significance in the New Testament, and some of it has to do with the mission of the church. Jesus issued the Great Commission to his disciples, and as Matthew 28:18-19 records it, some of the key phrases are drawn from Daniel 7. Look at Matthew 28:18: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” In Daniel 7:14, dominion was given to the Son of Man. The Greek Bible uses the same word in Daniel 7:14 as we find in Matthew 28:18. The Great Commission is prefaced by Jesus asserting that he has received universal authority. This is by virtue of his resurrection from the dead, and he’s about to ascend to sit on the throne at the right hand of God. Even though, when he says these words, he hasn’t yet taken his seat on the throne, he has earned the right through his obedience during his life on earth. He lived as a perfect human being, which demonstrated his right to rule as the Last Adam, the fulfillment of everything God created humanity to be. Then, he offered his life as a sacrifice in the place of sinful human beings, and then he rose from the dead on the third day, and then he spent time with his disciples for several weeks, and then, finally, he ascended and was enthroned at the right hand of God, where he remains until he will return in the future to wrap up human history. We need to view Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension as, not three separate events, but as a nexus of events, the singular action of the one who is fully God and fully human to accomplish our salvation. Thus, this statement of universal authority is the fulfillment of Daniel 7:14. But there’s more. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Making disciples of all nations is the way the Son of Man establishes his universal authority over all nations. In the Greek of Daniel 7:14, the exact phrase “all nations” is used to indicate those who will serve the Son of Man. As we saw in Daniel 2, where Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed about the stone that grew to become a great mountain that filled the whole earth, which Daniel explained as God’s kingdom, and which Jesus identified as himself and his kingdom—so here: the vision of God’s everlasting kingdom being given to the Son of Man in Daniel 7 focuses on the inauguration of that kingdom in Jesus’s first coming and provides a glimpse of the consummation of that kingdom when all other kingdoms will be utterly destroyed by God’s judgment. The saints in Daniel 7 become the bridge between the inauguration and the consummation. Even as the saints have received the kingdom with Jesus’s first coming, the kingdom expands and grows as disciples make more disciples from all the nations. As one writer puts it, “While Israel had been longing for the enthronement of the Danielic Son of Man for centuries, now the transcendent hero was finally here. Now, so the risen Jesus explains, the long-awaited enthronement was taking place through his own death, resurrection, and ascension; now he was about to take the helm of the kingdom of God. But in order to complete the vision of Daniel 7:14, in order to add in the last brushstrokes of the glorious portrait of the Son of Man receiving universal worship, the disciples would have to play their part by making disciples of all nations even as they drew on his authority.” But, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, this mission is fraught with difficulty, because Jesus also said that we disciples would be hated by all nations. Even as we go to make disciples of all nations, we will be hated by all nations. This is the outworking of the opposition of the little horn, the many antichrists that threaten, deceive, and persecute. But, because Jesus is indeed sitting on his throne at the right hand of God, because he has indeed received all authority in heaven and on earth, the mission is guaranteed to be a success! Consider one final New Testament connection. Last week, we saw how the beasts of Daniel’s vision serve as a backdrop and shaping influence for John’s vision of beasts in the book of Revelation. Well, the heavenly scene in Daniel’s vision also influences our understanding of a couple of John’s visions in the book of Revelation as well. Some of you may recall my message from last Easter, which I preached in my dining room. I’m so glad to be here physically with you all this year! Last Easter, I opened up John’s opening vision in Revelation 1:9-20, where John saw “one like a son of man” who also had some features of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. Thus, in John’s opening vision, Jesus is depicted as fully divine and fully human. But in our final moments together this morning, I want to focus on what is probably my favorite passage in the whole Bible, Revelation chapter 5. Following the seven letters dictated by the risen Jesus to John for seven churches in the Roman province of Asia Minor, recorded in chapters 2-3 of Revelation, John receives a vision of the heavenly throne room in chapters 45. As John describes what he saw, in chapter 4, he focuses on God sitting on his throne being worshiped by all manner of heavenly creatures specifically for creating all things. We pick up John’s description in Revelation 5:1. 1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. John, like Daniel, gets to participate in his visions. He is grieved, saddened by what he sees. God is sitting on his throne holding in his right hand a sevensealed scroll, and there appears to be no one worthy, no one who has the right to break the seals, unfurl the scroll, and read out its contents. John weeps. Verse 5: “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Now, notice that John hears of the Lion of Judah and the Root of David. Surely, he knows this is Jesus, but from this identification in a vision, John’s surely expecting to see a lion, vividly depicting the conquering Messiah. Listen to what happens next in verses 6-7: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” John heard that the Lion was coming, but then he sees the Lamb! This establishes an important pattern in the book of Revelation; often, John will hear about something, and then he will see something that looks very different from what he was expecting, based on what he heard about, but what he hears and what he sees are different ways of representing the same thing. I wish the ESV would’ve translated the first verb in verse 7 as it is normally translated; more literally, verse 7 begins, “And he came and took the scroll.” The Lamb came to God sitting on the throne, as the Son of Man came to the Ancient of Days sitting on the throne in Daniel 7. John is seeing what Daniel saw, and this reflects the same historical reality. John was one of the apostles who saw Jesus go up into heaven on a cloud, but none of them saw what happened next with their own eyes. John now gets a vision reflecting what happened next! This vision is depicting the transfer of universal authority from God the Father to God the Son! Jesus is depicted as a lamb with evidence of a slit throat, but who is standing upright, gloriously alive! He also has seven horns and seven eyes, symbolically depicting his universal power, universal authority, and his universal knowledge and wisdom, which he shares with his people throughout the world through the Holy Spirit. And then this Lamb is worshiped. Whereas God was worshiped for creation in chapter 4, here the Lamb receives universal worship specifically for redemption. Listen to the rest of the chapter, verses 8-14: 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twentyfour elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, 10 “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.” Do you recognize that language? People “from every tribe and language and people and nation” being made a kingdom and a promise of reigning on the earth—all that fits in with the vision of Daniel 7. Jesus, the Son of Man, died to purchase a kingdom, the citizens of a kingdom, and those citizens are all those who trust Jesus, Jew and Gentile, from every nation of the world. These are the saints! If you’re trusting this slain Lamb today, you are one of these saints! Continuing on to verse 11: 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Like in Daniel’s vision, there is an “already-not-yet” nature of this vision in Revelation. John hears a unified chorus made up of everybody and everything praising God and the Lamb! This aspect of the vision awaits the final fulfillment, the consummation of God’s kingdom. As in Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,”—that’s already happened, when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Verse 10, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” What John saw and what Paul said does not imply that all people will be saved. Today is the day to decide when and how you will bow and acknowledge the rightful rule of the Son of Man. Either you can willingly bow now—trust him, submit to his lordship, become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven today—or, you can continue in rebellion against this true king, or you can continue in your apathy and disregard for what you have heard today. If you continue in that posture for the rest of your life, you will have your day in court, and you will wail, you will weep and gnash your teeth, but you will also bow your knee and acknowledge that he is the rightful King, the true Lord, and you will experience everlasting punishment for your rejection of him. As John said in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
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