For ever and ever
Given the suffering of this world, how can anyone believe in a good God, or a happy ending?
In Daniel 7, the prophet has a vision of horrific cruelty. It was a “vision by night” that left him, in his own words, “grieved in my spirit… and the visions of my head troubled me.” (v15) “My cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me.” (v28)
This is what caused him such consternation: a vision of four ruthless kingdoms, devouring everything in their wake.
The first kingdom was like a lion with the wings of an eagle. It was fast and powerful in its conquests. The second was like a merciless bear which devours its people. The third was like a leopard with four wings – bringing swift destruction. And the fourth? This is like nothing Daniel had ever seen. It is “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” (v7). From the fourth kingdom will come a king who will be an anti-Christ figure. Verse 25: “He shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws.” Unsurprisingly, as an anti-Christ, he does the opposite of Jesus. He blasphemes the Father, oppresses His children and tampers with the Bible’s teaching.
And so Daniel is faced with the ruthlessness of earth and the rebelliousness of hell – all of it worked out in the warring power-plays of this world’s kingdoms. And then comes verse 18:
“But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.”
There is a good God who is “high” over this suffering world. And there is a happy future “for ever and ever.” How can this be?
Well the vision of the four kingdoms gives way to a vision of heaven, and that makes all the difference:
“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10)
With our eyes fixed on the earth, all we see are monstrous power plays. Daniel looks up to see One called the Ancient of Days – One who has seen it all before. This figure is not indifferent to evil. A fiery stream flows from His throne to judge the beasts (v11-12). The evil of earth and hell will be consumed by the judgement of heaven. All wickedness will meet its end in the judgement of the Ancient of Days. That’s good news – but how will the Most High destroy evil without ending us too? Haven’t we contributed to the beastliness of the earth? How can we have a happy future “for ever and ever”?
From verse 14 we seen another figure approaching the Ancient of Days. He is not beastly : He is quintessentially human – the son of man.
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14-15)
The Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days. He is not swept away in the blazing purity flowing from God the Father. He belongs in the presence of the Most High. And to Him is given “everlasting dominion.”
There is a way from the evil of earth to the thrones of heaven – that way is the Son of Man. This Son enters heaven not in His own name, but on behalf of His people. And everything that is given to Him belongs to His people also.
Take verse 27 for instance. It says:
“the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to…”
… we might expect the verse to end, “the Son of Man.” After all, verse 14 tells us that everlasting dominion belongs to Him. But now in verse 27 we read that everlasting dominion is given to…
“the people of the saints of the most High.”
The Son of Man does not inherit the kingdom for Himself alone. He inherits it for all those who belong to Him. When Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, He took us with Him. All that is His is ours.
Can we believe in a good God? Yes, there is a Most High seated on the throne. And from His blazing goodness, judgement will flow out to consume the evil of this world.
Can we believe in a happy ending? Yes, there is a Son of Man who, on the cross, fought upstream through a fiery judgement to bring us into an unshakeable kingdom.
In Jesus we have a good God and a happy ending – for ever and ever.
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