Daniel 7 is one of the most important chapters in the entire Bible. Here, we begin a new section in Daniel. The first half of Daniel is full of action and story. The second half is comprised of visions. Daniel 7 – the first of these visionary chapters – is full of really important biblical truths. It is a chapter that ties together some major themes from the bible, and it unwaveringly points to Jesus Christ.
The most prominent element here is the appearance of one “like a son of man.” Christians immediately recognize this as a prophecy of Jesus. As we will see next week when we begin our reading of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus frequently referred to himself as the Son of Man.
The vision Daniel received appears to portray the moment immediately following Jesus’ ascension into heaven to the right hand of the Father (the Ancient of Days). This was a magnificent moment where Jesus is given dominion over the earth. He appeared as a conquering king. Daniel reports this kingdom is one that never will be destroyed.
Within this image is a connection between the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2. In Genesis, God scattered the prideful nations according to their languages. In Pentecost, people from all nations converged on Jerusalem, and the first Christians spoke in foreign languages. The scattering of all peoples and tongues became a gathering of all people and tongues. God is setting things right in the world.
The identity of the nations or kings or world philosophies represented by the four beasts is something Christians like to argue about. Needless to say, the world has endured a succession of vicious kingdoms and empires and world views.
The “little horn” probably is a reference, at least in Daniel’s immediate context, of a king named Antiochus Epiphanes. He was a Seleucid king who in 167 BC defiled the temple and offered a pig as a sacrifice there and set up a statue of Zeus. This was not good. And it is well-marked in Jewish history.
So that is some of the background of this chapter.
What struck me here was the ferociousness and animal-like quality of the four beasts. One was “like a lion.” One was “like a bear.” One was “like a leopard.” And one was just “different.”
These four beasts are marked by their aggressive nature. They are marked by their non-resemblance to humanity – even though we know these are human kingdoms with human leaders. The human “likeness” isn’t present.
Does sin make us all a little less human? Ah, we like to say we all sin because we are all human. It is reassuring to know that everyone sins. But perhaps the reality is sin drives us to be less than human – that is, less that what God created us to be and certainly less than what God would have us to be.
Our sin drives us toward animal-like qualities – to selfishness, to aggression, to a relentless drive to get our own. In the past three months, I’ve seen images on the internet of people fighting over toilet paper in a grocery store aisle and rioters beating storeowners who dared to resist them with 2x4s.
There is something dark and animal-like that enters into humanity, and it gains entrance through our sinfulness. Daniel chronicled the rise of four kingdoms that were marked with this animal-like quality.
And then he marked one who came “like a son of man.”
There was no aggressiveness in this son of man – no selfishness or relentless drive to get his own. This was no animal. This was a human as humans were created to be. (Please stop and read Philippians 2:1-11.) And this is the kind of human the Holy Spirit is shaping each of us to be.
A question for your day: In what ways do you find yourself grasping to things in this life – like money or reputation or personal desires – and in what ways do you find yourself letting go of those things and just trusting in the one who came “like a son of man”?