Struttin’ on Through The Fire
There is a wonderful old spiritual that tells a classic story embodying the great issues set forth in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar has built his golden image and has commanded everyone in his kingdom, including the captive Israelites, to fall down on their faces before the idol when a signal is given. But three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, refuse to fall down. So a furnace is heated “seven times greater than it ought to be,” and the three young captives are cast into the flames. When the king looks in to watch them burn, he is astounded to see, in the words of the spiritual, “three Hebrew children struttin’ on through the fire.”
All the elements of an epic drama are here in this true story: captives, a faraway country, and the egotistical commands of a despot king. Looking squarely into the face of certain death, the courageous three refuse to bend the knee. The outcome raises a collective cheer from bystanders as the Hebrew children emerge in triumph from the inferno. But above all else looms the figure of their companion and guardian, who walked with them in the furnace— “one like the Son of God.” So they are saved, the enemy defeated, and God glorified.
The spiritual only reminds us, in an exceptionally moving way, of what we have read many times over in Daniel 3. But there is a great lesson here for us. Centuries after the fact, individuals far removed from the courtyards of Babylon can learn how God will protect, sustain, and guide His people in every generation. Thus we are given, in the ancient book of Daniel, a marvelous source of light for the last days. And while there are those who avoid a study of the prophetic aspects of Daniel’s record, it appears that the Spirit of God is prompting us to look and learn from those who have gone before us. As a matter of fact, it seems that the first six chapters of Daniel are principally ones of preparation and encouragement. They provide intimate glimpses of personal encounters of the people of God in the most difficult of times. In the immediate aftermath of Daniel’s night with the lions, we are told that King Darius made a decree.
“I make a decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and steadfast forever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end” (Dan. 6:26).
What an encouraging revelation this is. For after the greatest imperial forces on the planet had been pitted against them, the God of these simple men of faith had the last word. They not only endured, but they emerged victorious. Darius was right. History confirms that his kingdom would be devastated, but God’s kingdom “shall not be destroyed.”
Now we arrive at the last days. And what do we see? Little Israel is again under siege by the greatest powers and personalities ever mustered on this planet. However, Daniel chapters 7 through 12 have recorded the history of the final epoch before it has even unfolded and provide big pictures of what lies ahead. We cannot, therefore, neglect to study the prophetic portraits set before us in Daniel’s amazing record.
Antichrist Will Lead an International Colossus
A stabilizing factor in dealing successfully with the temper of our times is the Lord’s provision of a broad, historical perspective. In the visions of the golden image and the ravenous beasts that are seen devouring one another in chapter 7, we are given a concise description of the four Gentile entities that would rise and fall. Of these, three have come and gone. Babylon, Medo-Persia, and the Grecian Empire have gone to their graves. Rome, the fourth and final ancient power described in Daniel’s prophecy, awaits an inevitable resuscitation.
For centuries, biblical scholars have examined Daniel’s writings and have drawn parallels between the text of these Scriptures and the historical record. At this point, the final form of planetary imperialism manifested in revived Rome, these teachers have explained, alone awaits fulfillment. And while the details of the final era are laid out in Daniel, until very recent times their historical fulfillment seemed somewhat obscure. But here we are, in the infancy of the new millennium, and we are being allowed to see what these men did not. Like pieces of an intricate puzzle, things now appear to be falling into place.
Western Europe has stirred and is coming together as one entity at an incredible rate. Politically, economically, and militarily, Europe is beginning once again to dominate the Western World. In its quest to maintain international relevance, it appears that the United States is running to ride with the new colossus. The big word today, one almost universally accepted by Western political leaders, is globalism—a one-world worldview. National sovereignty is being deliberately eroded in the name of becoming a major player on the world stage. Even grave military decisions are being based on how they will impact the international marketplace.
While the West is coalescing around Europe, other global powers are asserting themselves. Russia still has monumental imperialistic ambitions and refuses to play second fiddle to the likes of the U.S. or Europe. In actuality, as we are told in the Scriptures, the two giants are heading for a collision. In addition, China is becoming an increasingly threatening force to be reckoned with. One can be certain that all the concessions being made to the tyrannical leaders in Beijing because of the potential Chinese market will not sate their appetite for dominion.
A struggle is being waged among major Western leaders. At issue is the question of who will lead. Beneath the politically correct façade of civility lurks the obsession to come out on top. Arguments along this line have already surfaced among European leaders. Where will it end, and who will, in fact, come out on top of the heap? The answer is found in Daniel and further clarified in other passages. A personage named Antichrist waits in the wings for the appropriate moment to make his appearance. As the world becomes an increasingly chaotic and unsafe place, people hunger for someone who will take control. Satan has that someone in mind.
It is regrettable that irresponsible, self-appointed, prophetic gurus have demeaned the subject of the Antichrist by repeated attempts to name him and sensationalize his life and times. The Scriptures have enough to say about him and, for our encouragement, how he will be dealt with.
Israel at the Epicenter
A three-day conference was held in California last November under the banner of “Middle Eastern Christians in the Islamic Context: Lessons From the Past, Prospects for the Future.” The leadership consisted of religious theologians and personalities who are all convinced that a “New Israel,” namely, the church, has replaced the seed of Jacob. Islamic participants, of course, believe that both Israel and the church have been sidelined in favor of Islam and that an alliance of sorts with Islam is the only religiously correct position to take.
It goes without saying that in the past few years, Muslim leaders have campaigned vigorously to mute Christian support for Israel by forging a vocal union with religious groups that espouse a kind of theological anti-Semitism. In the minds of these groups, Israel’s resurrection in the twentieth century has been a theological embarrassment and has raised a considerable number of questions among their constituents. Joining Muslims to take a slap at Israel must seem like an opportunity to enhance their credibility and demonstrate unbiased compassion.
At issue here is not personal salvation or discriminatory practices against Muslim or Arab peoples. Responsible evangelicals believe that Muslims and Arabs need to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior—and that Israelis and Jewish people need to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. This conviction, however, does not relegate God’s program for Israel’s national destiny to the dustbin of history. Any serious study of the book of Daniel makes this exceedingly clear. God is not through with Israel. Thus, if one sincerely wishes to make sense of prophecy or history, Israel must be given its place. There is no other viable option. As a matter of fact, Scripture has much to say, Old Testament and New, about rejecting or abusing Israel and the Jewish people.
The Fifth and Final Kingdom
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 (Dan. 7:13-14).
Those who interpret Scripture in a literal and historical manner have a significant advantage over those who don’t. Those who don’t, hold a kind of gossamer view of scriptural texts, including texts related to prophecy. A premier expression of this attitude is to claim, with a disparaging chuckle, to be a “pan-dispensationalist.” That is to say, everything will pan out all right in the end. That may get a laugh and defer further inquiry, but it does not address the issue or answer questions that hosts of believers want to have answered.
The Bible, thankfully, is a Book of certainties. If it is allowed to speak for itself, it will provide satisfactory conclusions. With respect to the question of the essential elements of the coming Kingdom, there is no reasonable room for misinterpretation. One may deny it, as some choose to do. Denial, however, does not negate what the Scriptures have to say about the King or His Kingdom. There will be a future theocratic Kingdom. The Messiah will reign in triumph from Jerusalem over reconciled Israel and a subdued Gentile world. Only the redeemed Jews and Gentiles will enter the Kingdom age, during which “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). If we grasp this, the deterioration of modern society that we are witnessing, if not less painful to accept, is more easily understood. We are moving toward an objective consummation. God is competent and in control.
What’s in It for Me?
This seems to be the question of the hour. Members of the Me generation are compulsively asking this of God (if they believe at all) and the society that has spawned them. The query is not altogether foreign to the world of believers. You will remember that the apostle Peter asked the Lord the same thing. “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee. What shall we have, therefore?” (Mt. 19:27). Jesus was careful to give His somewhat spiritually underdeveloped follower a sensitive answer.
The material covered in Daniel’s treatise personalizes some otherwise complex matters and speaks to what we may legitimately expect for ourselves. Here are very broad prophetic strokes that give us magnificent panoramas of the future and direct us to spiritual higher ground.
- A godless world will become increasingly more godless.
- The Antichrist will appear and, for a brief period of time, wreak havoc on Israel and among the nations.
- Israel is the central focal point of all prophetic revelation. Keep an eye on Israel, and you can know approximately where the hands on the prophetic clock are positioned.
- The King is coming. And when He does, He will set things right.
Consequently, what we will learn from the articles to follow will flesh out these truths and offer us the courage, as it did our eloquent, spiritual forebears, to go struttin’ on through the fire.