Text: Daniel 7:9-14
A little while back we sang the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” Many people recall it as one of their favorites. We sing it pretty much everywhere: from synod and district conventions, to LWML and circuit gatherings. Often we sing it with gusto and joy. There are, however, a couple stanzas in the hymn that would go well with our Old Testament reading today. Midway through the hymn, its tone changes. Stanza 3 goes, “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, Yet saints their watch are keeping; Their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.” Stanza 4: “Through toil and tribulation and tumult of her war she waits the consummation of peace forevermore Till with the vision glorious Her longing eyes are blest, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.”
It is that language – of the world seeing the Church oppressed, of her being rent asunder in time by schisms and heresies and then, finally, receiving a blessed rest – that helps understand the words of the Holy Spirit through St. Daniel this week. We receive through the prophet a vision of what is now and what will yet be at the end of time. We live now in the time of the figurative beast, where the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour the elect of God, His Church. Yet, there remains the time to come where the Son of Man will receive the eternal kingdom from His Father, to which we are joined by faith. Though with a scornful wonder, the world sees the Church oppressed, our Lord will come to put an end to evil, and rule forever.
Our text from Daniel is part what we call Apocalyptic literature. This type of writing is not unique to the Bible, but the Bible does contain some of it. The more familiar book to us is Revelation. Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Apocalypse is a Greek word that means “revealing.” Apocalyptic literature in the Bible means that God is revealing something to us, often something about the future, using figurative or symbolic imagery. It’s that last part that often makes this genre of Scripture a little more difficult to study, and, if we’re not careful, we can delve too far into our own imaginations and lose what it is God is speaking to us. It’s possible to do that even with this text. In order to understand this text, we need to start at the end. The prophet wrote, “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…His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14 English Standard Version)
We receive from the pen of Daniel what our Lord also described in the Gospel, that, at the End our Lord will return. He will come on the clouds and every eye will see Him, as St. Paul taught us last week. The dead will be raised and all the nations will be gathered before Him. As Daniel said, His court will sit in judgment and the “books [will be] opened.” (v. 10) On the right, the Lord will gather all those whose names are written in the Book of Life. That includes you and me, and everyone whom the Holy Spirit has called to faith in Jesus. By His grace through faith, our names are written in that book. But on the left, the Lord will place those who rejected and despised Him, and their sins will be read against them in judgment. Then will come the end, where Jesus – who is the Son of Man in the text – will receive from the Father the eternal dominion and glory, and we will enter with Christ into the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13) This much the Holy Spirit tells us through Daniel. But, we must confess, this is not yet what we see.
In the text we heard, in verse 12, a brief mention of what Daniel called, “the rest of the beasts.” This is because our text is only part of Daniel’s vision. There’s more before it and, actually, its interpretation after – both in chapter 7. The beasts that Daniel saw represented different prominent nations in Bible times, two of which we know. Daniel saw Babylon represented as a lion and Persia (remember King Cyrus returned the Jews to Israel) as a bear. The third beast represented Greece. Daniel mentions that the dominion of these beasts was taken away, but their lives were to continue for a time. There is, however, in chapter 7 a fourth beast; and the fourth is unlike the others. The fourth beast is vicious and violent and will set itself against God and His Church. Later in the chapter, this beast is described by an angel. He says, “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” (7:25)
Although, historically, the fourth beast represented Rome – which has come and gone – this aspect of the Roman Empire remains: an intense hostility toward Jesus and those who love Him. The first centuries of the Church were marked by hatred, including physical violence, toward our Lord’s Christians. Christians were looked upon and treated as the refuse of the world. Moreover, the devil worked his way into the Church to instigate fighting and false teaching, things that continue today. It is now our experience, and it may intensify, that we are looked down upon by the world. Even within the Church, there are those who would like to see the Missouri Synod disappear or at least soft-pedal on certain areas of doctrine. In time we may suffer for our faith, but we trust that the Lord will give us strength and words to speak in that hour. As the hymn goes, though, “soon the night of weeping will be the morn of song.”
It’s easy to get lost in the details of apocalyptic literature, such as ours today. There’s one more detail I would like us to consider. Daniel said, “I looked then because of the sound of the great [read: blasphemous] words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned.” (v. 11) Daniel describes for us the destruction of the devil and of all that is adverse to us. Though, for a time, the devil continues to prowl around and the world continues rage against the Church, those days are short. When our Lord returns, all evil will be put to an end. All of our sufferings, including those which are the result of sin and those we bear for the sake of Christ, will cease. The beast will be killed, Daniel said, its body destroyed with fire never to bother God’s people, us, anymore. Then the kingdom founded by Christ through His death and resurrection, will come in full and sweetest measure.
To Christ our Lord will be given a dominion, glory, and kingdom, that will neither pass away nor be destroyed. To Him will be gathered those from every people, nation, and language on earth who received His Word in faith; and we will be there. In the words of St. John, “The dwelling place of God [will be] with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4) This is what Daniel describes for us this week, and what we longingly await. Although the world sees the Church oppressed with a scornful wonder, we know that Christ her Lord will come soon and we shall be the Church at rest.