A Scary Pair

Two beasts. One from the sea and one from the land. One terrifying agenda: wipe out all opposition. Leave no survivors. All must convert or die.

Revelation 13. The scene opens with the dragon standing on the seashore. The first beast appears, 7 heads and 10 horns, who is like a leopard, and his feet are like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gives him his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads appears to have received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. And the whole earth is amazed and follows after the beast; they worship the dragon because he gives his authority to the beast; and they worship the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Remember this is the guy who slew the two witnesses in chapter 11, who appeared to be unstoppable. His ability to slay the two witnesses made him somewhat of a hero, especially since it would have been easy to see the two witnesses as responsible for the judgments that had occurred thus far in the tribulation.) The beast will speak arrogant words and blasphemies against God and against heaven. He will make war with the saints and overcome them, and everyone who lives on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

Using bestial imagery reminiscent of Daniel, John describes the man who will be empowered by satan with the trappings of the four beasts from Daniel’s vision of the Times of the Gentiles from Daniel 7. Based on John’s description, it is unlikely that he will be Jewish. His ability to slay the two witnesses and seemingly survive a fatal wound catapult him into instant star status…he is even worshipped as a god. No one will stand in his way, none can resist him. He slays the saints (overcoming them in the world’s eyes), and all those who are not God-fearers will worship him.

The second beast will come up out of the earth; and he will have two horns like a lamb and will speak as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes everyone worship the first beast. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it will be given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast. And it will be given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. The number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

The second beast appears to be Jewish (from the land, lamb, false prophet). His job is to cause folks to worship the first beast. The false miracles that this guy performs mirror that of the two witnesses, and taken together, these two beasts form a diabolical duo who are the anti-two witnesses attempting to cause the world to follow after the dragon where the two witnesses call the nation of Israel to follow God.

The imagery in this section of Revelation would make for a great block-buster movie. Dragons, beasts, war, angels, end of the world…and while the fantastic pictures may cause us to want to ignore or dismiss the underlying reality of these terrifying images, it’s important for us to be reminded of the real spiritual battle that rages around us that will one day come to a culmination when heaven and earth begin to crash together, and the physical and the spiritual are again one. How then should we live? When the earth and the heavens are being shaken, we need to remember that we are residents of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And our job is to invite others into that kingdom by sharing the good news of the gospel of reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

So long Danny boy!

What a ride! Twelve weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, unwavering commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Times of the Gentiles. Up is down, and down is up. Doing right brings punishment, while conforming to the world brings comfort. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control…”For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

A good friend of mine shared a lesson learned from Daniel that has rocked him. He used to ask the “why?” question when it came to suffering. Why, if he was following God, was he having to go through this or that trial. Then he came to expect suffering as part of the life of the believer…he became, as Kierkegaard labels it, a knight of resignation. But Daniel has helped him see that suffering doesn’t have to be faced with resignation…suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus, but that suffering can be faced with hope and even joy…not in the pain itself, but in the identification that we have with Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve. Quite the contrary. We’re called to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He’s learning what it means to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope

Until next time…stay salty.

Something old, something new

Not again. The visions come back more vivid and haunting each time. It was hard enough seeing Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue.  Now I’m starting round 4 of my own visions of the future and kingdoms to come. And each vision adds more detail and yet becomes more obscure, more opaque. I’m frightened, puzzled and perplexed. I know God’s in control of the events unfolding on the world’s stage, but these visions terrify me!

Daniel 11. This is now Daniel’s 4th pass through the prophetic events of the coming Gentile kingdoms. This time in Daniel’s prophecy there is a combination of events that are now historical for us (still future for Daniel) and events that are still yet to come. Without a scorecard or a grasp of Ancient History, it’s difficult to follow what’s going on in this chapter. The first 35 verses are historical for us. Verses 36-45 appear to be still future. The first section narrows in pretty quickly to the civil wars between the Seleucids (North – Syria) and the Ptolemies (South – Egypt) post Alexander’s death in 333 B.C. Each dynasty has approximately 5 kings, and the political intrigue surrounding their reigns is summed up by Daniel (- approximately 200-300 years before the events take place!). These two warring factions are targeted because their battleground was primarily in Palestine, directly impacting the Jews in Jerusalem. The king of most interest is the final “king of the North” listed in this section, the Seleucid sovereign Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). He was the one who wreaked havoc on the Jews, forcing Hellenization on them and setting up the abomination of desolation (altar of Zeus in the temple). He will be the prototype for the future king spoken of in 36-45, the antichrist.

But why do we care? All this future stuff has to do with Israel and the Jews, right? So why do I, as a Gentile believer, care about what happens to the Jews? Because of Genesis 12. God promises Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Blessing comes through the nation of Israel. They are the root. They are the mother of Messiah from Revelation 12. We care about this stuff because our future is interwoven with theirs. We rise and fall with them in the end. If they don’t win, we don’t win. And if God is not faithful to Israel in the end, why do we think He will be faithful to us?

Until next time…stay salty.

Continued amazement

The seventy years of Babylonian captivity had finally ended (somewhat). The decree had gone out to rebuild the temple and folks were headed back to Jerusalem. It was a hopeful time, yet Daniel was distressed. Once again he was plagued by future visions of conflict, so he fasted and mourned and waited. And then…he showed up. Daniel said, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.” Not like any man I’ve ever seen. And then we find out, that this “man” had been opposed by the prince of Persia for twenty-one days until the “man” called Michael for help. The “man”, or better, angel came to strengthen Daniel for understanding the revelation that would follow…and then he was back off to fight the prince of Persia while the prince of Greece prepared to come.

Daniel 10. Spiritual warfare. This is probably the clearest reference that we have to spiritual conflict in the OT. Angels fighting demons. The fate of the ancient world in the balance…sounds like it would make for a great movie. But this is no movie. What was happening to Daniel was real. And the spiritual conflict is no less real today, although we’ve convinced ourselves it doesn’t exist. In some ways, I think it’s easier to believe in God than the devil…most are functioning atheists when it comes to the dark side and its minions. And I believe that’s why many of us are defeated and enslaved by sin so easily. Not fun to think about, but…the good news is, greater is He who is in you…if you have trusted in Jesus. He’s already defeated the strong man and plundered his house. And now we wait, as Daniel did, for His return.

Until next time…stay salty.

Answered Prayer?

Sixty-six years. Daniel had been in captivity for sixty-six years. He had come to Babylon as a young man and now was quite old. Most of his friends were gone…they had died somewhere along the way. Yet Daniel was unwavering in his hope that God would restore the nation. Reading the prophet Jeremiah, he came across the passage where God had mentioned the Jews being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before judgment came upon the Babylonians. And now the time was near, or so it seemed. So Daniel began to pray, confessing the sins of the nation and asking God to restore them just as Moses had instructed in Deuteronomy. And suddenly an angel appeared, Gabriel in fact. And Daniel’s prayer was answered in a most surprising way.

Daniel 9. First Daniel’s told that 70 7’s had been decreed for his people and the holy city, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” It turns out that the 7’s are years, so 70 7’s would be 490 years. According to the following verse, 69 of those 7’s (483 years) would span the time from the rebuilding of the city (time of Nehemiah) to the appearance of the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry). But then Messiah would be cut off by the same folks who would also destroy the city. In the final 7 (tribulation) there would be a covenant made and then broken by a mysterious figure, a prince of these folks, who would then be destroyed.

Good news for Daniel: the righteous rule of God would be established. Bad news: not anytime soon. We are still in the time between the 69th and 70th 7. We’re waiting for the end of transgression and sin, the entrance of everlasting righteousness and the sealing up of prophecy. In some ways these things have been accomplished…in Jesus who is the “Stone cut without hands” and the “Son of Man” who comes up to the Ancient of Days. In His first coming, He made atonement for sin and paved the way for everlasting righteousness for all who believe in Him. But still we wait. We wait for the final revelation of the Son as the White Horse Rider and the ultimate end of sin, death, pain, sorrow, etc. And as we wait, like Daniel, may God find us just as faithful to impact our culture and point others to Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Dark Days Ahead

The outlook was not good. Not good at all. The kingdom of the ram was challenging enough as it crushed all opposition. But on the horizon, the kingdom of the goat. It quickly gained momentum as it devoured the ram’s kingdom, finally defeating the ram itself thus making it officially the time of the goat. But shortly after establishing his throne, the goat-king died and his kingdom was divided up among his four generals. And while there was some coherence to the kingdom, there was also much infighting, until another king arose. He came to power through political intrigue, killing his predecessor and ascending the throne. After defeating his counterpart in the region to the south, he set his sights on the Beautiful Land. It would be a jewel in his crown and provide a buffer zone between his kingdom and that of the emerging kingdom of the beast. He set himself up as the king of the Beautiful Land, trampled underfoot its citizens and defiled their place of worship, forcing them to take part in his apostasy on pain of death. Only then he would be killed, but not by human agency… then Daniel awoke. Daniel 8.

The vision in itself was terrifying to Daniel and unintelligible. It occurred to him while he was still living in Babylon a short time before the kingdom was overthrown by the Persians. We are told that the vision relates to the next two kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles, namely Medo-Persia (the ram) and Greece (the goat), and from world history we can piece together with surprising accuracy the vision that was so confounding to Daniel. We know the first goat-king as Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians and then died shortly afterwards. His kingdom was divided between his four generals. The four generals became kings of their respective regions while maintaining the overall kingdom of Greece. There was a great deal of infighting among each of these dynasties as they sought to expand their individual domains. After a time, a king rose up in the Seleucid dynasty, and, killing his predecessor, he ascended the throne. That king was Antiochus Epiphanies. After defeating Ptolemy VI and taking over Egypt, he set his sights on Jerusalem. He attacked the city and set himself up as king. He set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and forced the Israelites to offer swine on the altar and eat its flesh…a thing that was abhorrent to the Jews. This prompted the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabees. Antiochus was forced out of Jerusalem and died a short time later as a madman (making prophetic the title given him by the Jews, Antiochus Epimanes “Madman”).

This vision of Daniel’s is different than the two before (statue and beasts). Each of those ended with God setting up an eternal kingdom, but here all Daniel sees is the people of God being trampled and killed. It sure looked like they were losing. It troubled him. It should trouble us. During this time when we live in the shadow of the fourth kingdom, we shouldn’t expect to see God’s people winning from a human perspective. In fact, it looks like they chose the wrong side. But the story doesn’t end there…

Until next time…stay salty.

Wicked Nightmare

What a wickedly vivid nightmare! Four fantastical beasts, each one, in some ways, more terrifying than the one before. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear leaning to one side with three ribs in its mouth. A four-headed leopard with four wings. A horrific beast with iron teeth and bronze claws, having a number of horns, that bites and tears and devours. But then a radiant throne and the Ancient of Days sitting in judgment. And finally one like a Son of Man riding a cloud and coming up to the Ancient of Days to receive authority and a kingdom. Such was Daniel’s dream. And it deeply troubled him.

Daniel 7. When Daniel asked for the interpretation, he was told that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms…much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Like the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the lion with the wings of an eagle represented Babylon. That much Daniel could be sure of. But at the time of the dream, he was still living in the time of Babylon’s rule so the identity of the remaining kingdoms would have been a mystery. From world history, we know that the kingdoms that followed Babylon were Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the curious thing is…Rome never actually fell to another world power. For sure the city was sacked by the Visigoths and the Vandals from the north in the fourth century AD, but the kingdom itself faded into the background and became the European states that we know today.

The interesting thing for us in this vision is the fact that the final kingdom falls to the “One like a Son of Man” by whom the little horn that speaks out blasphemies against the Most High is cast into burning fire. This hasn’t happened yet. The little horn is also predicted to make war with the saints and overpower them – probably what terrifies Daniel…evil winning and good guys loosing. This we may think we have seen, but not to this extent. And so we wait. While it looks like following God is losing, we wait. While persecution intensifies, we wait. While our physical lives are seemingly thrown away like so much garbage, we wait. We wait for the eternal kingdom. But we also seek to engage the cultural now. We fight back the darkness and make it harder to go to hell. The Judge is coming, and when He arrives it will be too late for those who are His enemies. So we wait and we work and we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Belshazzar’s Fatal Mistake

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet. His kingdom was one of the wonders of the ancient world. His word was law, and he decided the fate of many a people. But Nebuchadnezzar also learned a lesson that radically changed the trajectory of his life…the God of the Hebrews was God, the eternal God who was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. He proclaimed, “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” And Nebuchadnezzar became a believer in the one true God.

Daniel 5. Several years later, a new king sat on the throne of Babylon…well maybe more of a co-regent since his father was still technically king. His name was Belshazzar. The fall of Babylon was imminent. The Medes and Persians were literally right outside the gates. And young Belshazzar decided to throw a feast, likely in honor of the constellation of The Scales (today known as Libra). During the feast, he commanded a curious thing: that his servants “bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Subsequently a hand appeared and wrote a mysterious message on the wall. All of the king’s wise men were called in, but none could interpret the message. Finally Daniel was summoned, and after giving a brief history lesson, he gave the interpretation. “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.  ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient [ironic in view of the festival they were celebrating]. ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” That night Belshazzar died.

What was Belshazzar’s sin? And how was it different than Nebuchadnezzar’s? Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar worship idols and force others to do the same? Wasn’t he also proud? So why was one spared (Nebuchadnezzar) and the other destroyed (Belshazzar)? No doubt before his conversion Nebuchadnezzar was proud and idolatrous, and God patiently pursued him. But we have to remember that before Daniel’s arrival, the God of the Hebrews was the local deity of yet another kingdom Nebuchadnezzar had conquered. The fact that he defeated the Jews in battle proved that his gods were greater than theirs. And so God introduced Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, and he responded. In each instance, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power and ultimately recognized His sovereignty. And Daniel told Belshazzar, “Yet you, his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven.” Belshazzar knew who God was, but chose to dishonor Him all the same. Belshazzar had sinned with a high hand…open rebellion against both God and Nebuchadnezzar who worshiped Him. And God brought swift judgment.

While God was punishing His people for their infidelity, He would still protect the faithful during this time of judgment. We are still living during these “Times of the Gentiles”, so it’s imperative for us to remember that God is sovereign over the nations and kingdoms of the world. He establishes kings and pulls down kings. He sets the times and the epochs. And He will judge, but He will also deliver those who have trusted in Him. We can rest in that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Trading up

Nebuchadnezzar seemed to have it all. He had defeated every army he faced. He had envisioned and supervised a number of impressive building projects in the city of Babylon, including the famous “hanging gardens”, one of the wonders of the ancient world. He had wealth beyond compare, and he was the ruler over the vast Babylonian empire, which was considered the world power of his day. He commanded the respect of his subordinates and his peers. He was the most powerful man in the world. But one thing he lacked…and that was what Daniel and his three friends had. Daniel 4.

When Daniel and his friends were brought to Babylon, they respectfully declined to eat the king’s choice food because it violated the worship of their God. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, Daniel was the only one who was able to give both the dream and its interpretation with the help of his God. When Nebuchadnezzar later set up a golden image for all his leaders to worship, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach) and Azariah (Abed-nego) were willing to go to a fiery death rather than bow to the image. And after both the dream and God’s deliverance of the three boys, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the power of the Hebrew God. Each instance was important, but the Hebrew God only seems to have been added to Nebuchadnezzar’s list of gods.

Then God gives Nebuchadnezzar a second dream. And in the dream (tree that is cut down), Nebuchadnezzar was warned that he would be humbled due to his pride. In fact, he would be given the mind of an animal until he acknowledged that God was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. When Daniel was called in to explain the meaning of the dream, he was disturbed. But why? Could be any number of reasons…fear of the king’s anger on receiving bad news, self promotion, the good of the kingdom…but based on Daniel’s character thus far in the story, the most likely answer was that he genuinely cared for the king. He even told Nebuchadnezzar how to avoid the coming judgment…repent. But Nebuchadnezzar refused to listen, so God humbled him.

The amazing thing about this chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s statements at both the beginning and end. He got it. You see, I believe Nebuchadnezzar traded up. He was missing a relationship with God, and he gained not only that, but also more prominence within his kingdom. God went to extraordinary links to reach this pagan king: raising his to power, two incredible dreams concerning the future, both far and near and rescuing three boys from a fiery furnace. But probably the most significant instrument that God used was Daniel himself. He gave him favor with the king, and Daniel took seriously his responsibility to serve and the relationship that followed. And through Daniel’s consistency and faithfulness, God brought the most powerful man in the world into His kingdom.

Many of us find ourselves in relationships with those who don’t have a relationship with God. Maybe they’re seeking, and maybe not. They could be your boss, your co-worker, your employee, your teacher, your student, your neighbor, your family member, etc. Do you live out a consistent testimony before them? May God find us so faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.