On Thursday, we had our monthly church prayer meeting.
We prayed for Christians in Egypt. Here’s a report from one website:
Coptic Christians in Egypt do not accept the condition of submission imposed on Christians in Islamic societies: they continue to build churches and even promote television networks to spread the Christian proclamation. This is why they must be attacked as "infidel fighters", and their churches must be blown up. This is, in short, the message of instigation.
In 2017 alone, Jihadist terrorism committed three massacres regarding Coptic Christians, as well as several murders. On April 9, Palms Sunday, attacks were carried out on two coptic churches - one in Tanta region and one in Alexandria - causing 45 deaths and more than 130 wounded. On May 26, a terrorist assault against a coach of pilgrims in the governorate of Minya caused the death of 28 Copts.
That’s 63 deaths in just two of the attacks.
We also prayed for Christians in Nigeria. Here’s another website:
Islamic Fulani cattle herdsmen have killed nine Berom tribe Christians and injured three others in Rim village in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State, Central Nigeria. All nine who were members of Church of Christ In Nations, were buried on Thursday 9 November 2017.
It then reports details of the massacre. (I won’t read that bit.)
Emmanuel Jugul the local government chairman. said. “I have complained severally, in my domain, there are many places my people cannot go there. Like in Mahanga village today, no person can go there. The people have been displaced by the Fulani. Why can’t the federal government stop the killings?”
The Rev Dacholom Datiri, the Church of Christ In Nations President in a statement said, “We are saddened again by yet another attack on members of our church. We have continued to be forced into mourning the death of some our members for no just cause. Whatever it is, our faith is dependent on Jesus Christ, our Saviour.”
A local government organisation said that all its petitions and complaints have been ignored. With their national government doing nothing, they’re going to appeal to the United Nations for help.
It’s hard to picture what it’s like to live in a culture like that. How powerless they must feel when the authorities stand back and just let these things happen. It must be hard to keep trusting that God knows what he’s doing, hard to keep following him.
There may be times when we need strength to keep following the Lord Jesus Christ. We need strength when, in much smaller ways, we find our life gets difficult because we follow him. We will need strength if the climate in the UK changes to become less accepting of active Christians. We need strength when the news of Christians in other parts of the world gets to us.
The vision in Daniel chapter 8 is designed to give strength to God’s people. It wore Daniel out. By the end of the chapter, he went to bed for several days to recover! But he had to experience the vision. We only have to read about it, so we get the benefits without the overwhelming experience of going through this vision. So thank you Daniel for being worn out by this, so that we can be strengthened!
Daniel received this vision in about the year 550 BC. It describes events from then up to about 160 BC. 400 years. And it’s slightly unusual. Normally, when God reveals something to one of his prophets, it’s a message for the prophet’s own day. Not this one. This is a message for the people who would live at the end of the period being covered. Glance down at verse 26: “Seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” Daniel was to seal this, to keep it safe, to make sure it doesn’t get lost, so it’s there for the people who will need to hear it. God had a message for the people who live in 160 BC. But they needed to know that this message had been given 400 years earlier. We’ll see why as we look at it.
Let me take us through this. I’ll explain what Daniel saw, and what it represents in the history that would follow. And then I’ll give us three truths that this tells us about the powers that rule this world. Truths that will help us to see the hard times in a proper light. Truths that give us strength to keep going.
The Vision and its Meaning
First, then the vision. Helpfully, it’s all explained for us in the second half of the chapter.
Daniel sees a ram. That’s a male sheep. It’s got two horns. First a short horn, and then another horn grew up that ended becoming bigger than the first one.
This ram represents the kingdom of Media and Persia, who joined forces. Media came first. But then Persia grew up and became by far the bigger of the two.
Then we get a goat, with one great big horn on its head. We’re told that this goat is the kingdom of Greece, which was ruled by Alexander the Great. This goat charged at the ram, and biffed into it. Both the ram’s horns were completely shattered. The ram was finished. An ex-ram. Now Greece is the dominant world power.
But Alexander himself didn’t do so well. He only ruled for 13 years, and he hadn’t got his succession sorted. He never made it home from a military excursion to India. He died, probably of malaria or typhoid. And his kingdom got split into 4. It’s why the large horn gets broken off, and 4 more horns come up in its place.
The next thing Daniel sees is a little horn come up amongst those 4. We had a little horn in chapter 7, and this is probably the same character, Antiochus IV. One little king, amongst those 4 Greek kings. But he get half the space of the vision, and half the space of the explanation, because he caused more trouble to the Jewish people than any king before him. This vision was given for the benefit of the people he oppressed so cruelly.
He forbade the Jews from carrying out their daily sacrifices. He confiscated the Jewish law. He killed anyone found with a copy of it. Those were terrible times. It looked like evil had won. The end of verse 12: He “prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.” But then Daniel learns that his oppression will be limited to 2300 evenings and mornings, whatever that means. He won’t cause havoc forever. Things will be put back together.
This vision was given for the people suffering at his hands. To help them keep trusting their God through all of this.
So, then, three things about world leaders, to give us strength in hard times.
Aggressively grabbing for power, but never hold on
Number 1: They are aggressively grabbing for power, but they never hold on. Aggressively grabbing for power, but never hold on.
Antiochus is deliberately described in the same way as the goat.
The people living in Antiochus’ day are living through the thick of it. It’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel when you’re in a dense fog, and these people were in a dense fog. But Alexander the great had been and gone. They could look back on his rule, and see how Antiochus was really very similar.
What’s more, God had predicted what would happen to Alexander the Great. He revealed it to Daniel in this vision, and he got it right. Which means that God’s assessment of Antiochus will be spot on as well. And so will God’s prediction of Antiochus’ demise.
As Daniel’s vision looks back to Alexander the Great, it’s a vision that is full of aggression. It’s energetic. It’s fast-paced. It’s violent. The goat simply charges at the ram at full speed. His feet don’t touch the ground. He simply biffs him out of the way. He’s on a quest for power, and he will hammer into anyone that stands in his place, push them out of the way.
This is the story of politics and government today. You watch world leaders trying to gain power and influence on the world stage. Any other nation that stands in their way is pushed and shoved. Other rival leaders in their own country are biffed and bashed. We get it in domestic politics as well. Watch any leadership contest in any of our political parties. You even get it in local politics, at county level, even at parish level. Sadly, you even get it in churches.
People are on a thirst for power. There’s a lot of aggressive energy in the world. That’s what Alexander the Great was on. That’s what Antiochus was on as well.
But here’s the thing: They never manage to hold onto the power they crave. Verse 4: No animal could stand against the ram. Until the goat came along. Then it’s turned around. Verse 7: “None could rescue the ram from its power.” Then the next development, verse 8: “At the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up.”
Then come the days of Antiochus IV. He’s so cruel, his grip on power so secure, it feels that this one will break the trend. This one will rule forever. But he’s no different from the others. Verse 25 ends: “Yet he will be destroyed.”
World leaders: Aggressively grabbing for power, but never hold on.
When I was a child, one game we’d play was king of the castle. It worked best on a grassy hill that was fairly steep if you could get up to it from all sides. Your mission was to be king of the castle. To stand on top of the hill. But once you were there, everyone else would try to pull you down, make you roll down the hillside, so that someone else could stand on top. Then it was their turn to be yanked down, and so it went on.
Daniel 8 is showing us that world history is one big game of king of the castle. Maybe a particular regime feels unbreakably cruel. But at the end of the day, they’re just one in a long line of people who have pushed and shoved their way to the top. And they’ll just be the next in a long line of people to be shoved out of the way by someone else.
There’s only one exception. That exception is Jesus of Nazareth.
He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped at. He gladly made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. And having humbled himself, he became obedient, even to death on a cross. He didn’t push and shove his way to the top. He let himself be pushed to the bottom. But because he did that, God exalted him to the highest place in heaven and earth. So that, at the name of Jesus, every knee will one day bow. And every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But apart from Jesus, powers and authorities are aggressively grabbing for power. But they never hold on.
Assaulting heaven, but never get there
Second, they are assaulting heaven, but they never get there. Assaulting heaven, but never get there.
There are a number of key words in this vision. There’s a key family of words that are all to do with becoming great, rising up, standing up, growing tall. Verse 4: “It did as it pleased and became great.” Verse 8: “The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up towards the four winds of heaven.” Verse 9: “came another horn, which started small but grew in power”. Verse 10: “It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.” And so on.
There’s a story in the book of Genesis about some people who weren’t content to be on earth. We decided to try and build a staircase to heaven. It was an assault. We can climb up to God.
That’s behind all the kingdoms in this vision. Media and Persia became great. Greece became very great. The little horn grew so great he was knocking on heaven’s door. Or battering on heaven’s door.
And yet, as we’ll see, he never gets there. None of them do. They all want to be god. But they stay, and they die as mere mortals.
Plenty of rulers today want to take the place of the gods. Sometimes it’s explicit. The Chinese government has been asking Christians to take down pictures with Christian symbols, and put up pictures of Communist party officials instead. Sometimes, it’s more subtle. If the state agrees to provide for more and more of our needs, perhaps we’ll give them more and more of our loyalty.
None of this is new.
But how easy it would have been for the Jews to be cowed by Antiochus, to agree to his demands that they treat him as a god. If someone genuinely thinks they’re unstoppable, top of the list, and if they have a big stick to go with it, it’s hard not to go along with their delusion.
But they never get there, and Daniel’s vision helps those Jews not to lose perspective. Not everything the authorities tell you is true. Heaven remains God’s realm, and nobody displaces him.
Assaulting heaven, but never get there.
Assigned their place by God, but never for ever
The leaders of the day: Aggressively grabbing for power, but never hold on. Assaulting heaven, but never get there.
And third: Assigned their place by God, but never for ever. Assigned their place by God, but never for ever.
Antiochus was a law to himself. He was extremely clever, extremely cunning, and extremely bold. A born leader, who ruthlessly pursued his vision, and was very effective. Verse 23: “A fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue.”
If the papers were writing up his military and strategic advances, they’d have put it down to what a capable man he was. But this was not the true reason for his success.
Look at the start of verse 24: “He will become very strong, but not by his own power.” The implication is clear. It’s actually God who’s got him to the place he’s reached.
Shortly before Jesus was arrested, he was interviewed by Pilate. Pilate said this, John chapter 19, verse 10: “Don’t you realise that I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Here’s how Jesus replied: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
Now, there are many levels at which to read that, but one of them is that God has given Pilate the authority he wields. Yet how many rulers forget this. Pontius Pilate, Antiochus IV, and many others since, live as though they were self-made.
Maybe you’ve had the fortune to be promoted at work. You have responsibility for others, not just for your own work. You’re very aware that the people who promoted you could easily take privilege away from you. You wouldn’t dream of taking the department off in your own direction. You’re in charge because someone’s put you there.
But how easily we forget that God is the one who is really in charge. Any responsibility we have is only because God has entrusted us with it.
With a tyrant like Antiochus, it does beg the question what God was doing when he put the man in charge. What Antiochus does in his position is his responsibility and God will hold him to account. You can’t blame God for what Antiochus does. But Antiochus would do well to remember that God is ultimately the one in charge.
That’s because the one who put him in charge could easily take his power away again. The story of Antiochus’ reign is ended by a very similar phrase to the one that began his reign. These phrases form a kind of brackets around his rule. Verse 25 ends: “Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.”
Just as God put him in charge, so God destroyed him again.
The Lord Jesus is the one who is ultimately in charge of every earthly kingdom and its rulers. 1 Timothy chapter 6, Revelation chapter 17 and Revelation chapter 19 all give Jesus the title of “King of kings”.
Perhaps it trips off the tongue a little too easily; we’re used to it as a phrase. So let’s think about it for a moment. We’re used to the idea that some nations have a king. A king who’s in charge of all the citizens of that nation. But who’s in charge of the king? Do the kings of this earth have a king of their own, someone in charge of them? Who’s king of kings? And the answer, three times, is Jesus.
The rulers of this world may terrorise their people. They may oppress God’s people. But they’re put in post by the Lord Jesus, and they forget that only to their own peril. And they won’t be in post forever. The same Jesus who promoted them can and will demote them.
Another truth we need to hold onto, when we encounter leaders who think they define reality for themselves. Who think they’ll always be around. They won’t. There’s only one king who’ll always be around, and he’s our king.
Assigned their place by God, but never for ever.
The world can be a frightening place. When we see how Christian people are mistreated, or if we’re mistreated ourselves for belonging to the Lord Jesus, the world can be an upsetting place as well.
Be strong. The leaders of this world may look like they are permanent fixtures, but actually they’re part of a bigger story. It’s as it always has been. They may be aggressively grabbing for power, but they never hold on. They may be assaulting heaven, but they never get there. They are assigned their place by God, but never forever.
So we can live with complete confidence as the people of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.