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31 August. Daniel chapters 7-8
The two apocalyptic visions that are recounted here are dated in the first and third years of Belshazzar, therefore before the “writing on the wall” incident in yesterday’s reading. They use slightly different symbols, but otherwise are much the same, with horned beasts representing countries, empires and their rulers, with one defeating another, persecution of God’s people and their eventual triumph.
Much apocalyptic writing is like this. In the second vision, an archangel identifies two of the beasts as the Median-Persian and Greek empires; but otherwise it is pointless trying to identify particular nations and rulers in later centuries. The principle is clear: there will often be persecution of religious groups by power-hungry men and their regimes, but (as the similar Book of Revelation puts it) those who endure to the end will be saved.
There is one verse in here which is regarded by Christians as pointing to Jesus: “I saw one like a human being [or ‘Son of Man’] coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him” (7:13). Jesus used the term Son of Man for himself, and here such a person is shown as being brought before the Creator, to be given (in the following verses) everlasting rule over the earth and the worship of its peoples. That is how the Church has understood Jesus after his resurrection and ascension – he has become for ever the manifestation of God among people, and worthy of worship alongside the one he called Father.
These visions, terrible as they are, serve to remind us that worshipping God – directly or through Jesus – is risky in terms of the persecution that we might face, but ultimately we are on the side of the victor.