Week of March 3: A closer look at Daniel's vision of change
By HAL BRADY
For the week of March 3
Lesson Scripture: Daniel 7:9-14
What hope does Daniel’s vision give us for a better future?
A little girl came home from school with her report card. On it was an “F” in spelling. When her mother demanded an explanation, the little girl said, “Mommy, words fail me.”
Well, for many, the word “hope” has failed them. So many among us are experiencing despair, defeat and/or hopelessness.
The Sunday school lessons for this third quarter, “Beyond the Present Time,” address this whole theme of hope as found in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Today and for the next two lessons we will specifically focus on hope for the future as we study the Book of Daniel.
Now, the first six chapters of Daniel basically present Daniel’s career in chronological order as he serves under several kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus. In these chapters, we are told stories about Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and their faith and courage before these pagan kings. In the second half of the Book of Daniel (chapters 7-12), however, we read of Daniel’s vision for the future. Beginning with chapter seven, narrative is replaced by what scholars call “apocalyptic.”
The nature of apocalyptic literature
Before we proceed further, some review of apocalyptic writing is in order. “Apocalyptic” comes from a Greek word that means “to uncover” or “to reveal.”
According to scholars, apocalyptic literature is a type of writing that took form in the later periods of persecution of the Jews and Christians, from about 200 B.C. to 150 A.D. It was designed to uphold the courage of the people of God during dark days, and made use of striking forms of speech, symbolic figures and numbers, and strange descriptions of political events. In summary, apocalyptic celebrates God’s victory over the enemies of the righteous or godly. Consequently, there is hope for the future.
A vision of change
In our scripture lesson today, Daniel has a vision of change. Daniel’s vision of the Ancient One (God) has to do with the new direction and destination of history. Earthly dominions or powers that seek to serve only themselves, whether political or social or economic or even religious, will not succeed. That’s the insight of Daniel in his dreams and visions. While earthly evil gives the illusion of dominance or control, Daniel’s vision of the “Ancient One” assures us that evil’s days are limited and that hope for God’s new kingdom is secure.
Numerous scholars agree that while Daniel may well record stories that come down from the time of the Babylonian and the Persian eras, the main audience to whom this book and this vision is addressed lived in the mid-second century B.C. At this time, the shamefully bad Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV was the monarch. The evil Antiochus abused his power by seeking to impose a variety of changes upon the practices of Judaism and the temple rituals. The general assumption is that the Book of Daniel was finally composed during this time as a protest against this ruler’s arrogance. But more than a protest, the Book of Daniel and Daniel’s vision served as a strong beacon of hope for the future.
Daniel’s specific vision
In his vision, Daniel saw four beasts (empires and evil). Though these four beastly empires of chapter seven have been identified by some as Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greece and Rome, they simply represent the fact that evil kingdoms will succeed one another until the end of time.
But listen carefully! Daniel’s vision is not over and therein lies the beautiful hope. Daniel states in verse 13: “As I continued to watch this night vision of mine, I suddenly saw one like a human being coming with the heavenly clouds. He came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.” Here we see the “human one” being led into the presence of the “Ancient of Days” (God) as the beasts lay slain.
In essence, Daniel’s apocalyptic vision reassured the faithful Jews who were being persecuted by Antiochus Epiphanes that his reign would pass.
So what does all this say to our Christian hope? What hope does Daniel’s vision give us for a better future?
N.T. Wright says that Daniel’s vision in chapter seven is a vision of the kingdom of God, the kingdom in which God’s people “come” to the Ancient One in vindication after intense suffering.
Then Wright says that the kingdom, the authority, the supreme power that is then given to the “one like a son of man” is remarkably, something Jesus already claimed during his short career. (Mark 2:10)
When we in the church hear Daniel’s vision of the coming of “one like a human being” or, as other translations say, this “Son of Man,” we become visibly aware of association with the coming ministry of Jesus Christ. We recall “The Apostles’ Creed” and our confession: “He ascended into heaven, and, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Whatever else may be true about the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, it points out two great truths. First, it points out the truth of the ultimate triumph of Christ. Second, it points out the truth that history is going somewhere. The doctrine of the Second Coming says that there is “One divine-far-off event, to which the whole creation moves,” and that event is none other than the universal and eternal rule of God.
Along with you, all this makes me hopeful. As we conclude this lesson, I invite you to read again the key verse of our scripture lesson which is Daniel 7:14. Read it again, take it to heart and remain hopeful!
Questions for further reflection
Ask class members to discuss the nature of apocalyptic literature.
What is the hope that Daniel’s vision gives us for a better future?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues his ministry through Hal Brady Ministries (www.halbradyministries.com). He can be reached at hal@halbradyministries