Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (7): Daniel

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (7): Daniel

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (7): Daniel

Around 600 BC, Nebuchadnezzar and his huge Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem. They surrounded the capital city of Judah and had a stranglehold on everything in Jerusalem… no food, no transportation, no military help. God’s punishment to His Chosen People for their unfaithfulness was to have the Babylonians defeat the people of Jerusalem. The enemy then quickly deported those young men who would serve the king’s court in Babylon. “Only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men, all versed in every branch of learning, gifted with knowledge and good judgment, suited to serve in the royal palace.” (Daniel 1:4). Among these exiled young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Upon arrival in Babylon, these faithful Hebrew young men were challenged to fit into the Babylonian culture. The king changed their names to make them change their loyalties. Daniel (“God is my judge”) was changed to Belteshazzar (“Bel, protect my life”); Hananiah (“Yahweh shows grace”) became Shadrach (“Under the command of Aku”); Mishael ((“who is like God?”) was changed to Meshach (“who is like Aku?”); and Azariah (“Yahweh helps”) became Abednego (“servant of Nebo”). The royal palace also tried to change their diets, and they schooled the Hebrews in the Babylonian education. None of these efforts were successful, the four exiles remained faithful to Yahweh. Nothing would make these young men compromise their faith in God. Despite their resistance, their excellence in their work (“ten times more competent” (1:20), these four men rose to prominent places of leadership in Babylon.

Jesus With Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Soon Nebuchadnezzar wanted to strengthen his power and centralize worship in Babylon. So he built a huge gold statue, 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide, as tall as a nine-story building. The King then demanded that everyone in Babylon bow down to worship the statue, which might have been a statue of himself. The penalty for refusing to worship the statue was capital punishment, thrown into a blazing furnace. This furnace was a huge industrial kiln used to bake bricks and smelt metals. No one could hope to survive the consuming heat of the furnace.

The three exiles Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the statue. They defied the king and challenged his authority to command pagan worship. Because they wouldn’t compromise their faith in Yahweh, they were condemned to death in the furnace. Their reply to Nebuchadnezzar was profound: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you, O King. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up!” ((3:16-18).

So the three young stalwarts were bound with rope and thrown into the fires of the furnace. Suddenly the King stood up and shouted, “Wait a minute! We threw three men in there, didn’t we? I see a fourth man in there too, and they’re walking around in the fire unharmed! And this fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” (3:24-25). Shockingly, not a hair was singed, not one piece of clothing was burned. They didn’t even smell like smoke. The three young men climbed out of the furnace and into Biblical history. The King exclaimed that “their God sent His Angel to rescue these servants who trusted in Him.” (3:28). The three young men were soon promoted to even higher positions, and Nebuchadnezzar formally added the name of Yahweh to their long list of gods.

This fourth Person in the furnace, this Angel, or “son of the gods,” was the Angel of Yahweh, the Angel of the Lord. Jesus made a personal appearance in the furnace with the three young men to support and deliver them in their defiance of the pagan king. Jesus, once again the Deliverer sent by Yahweh Himself. God doesn’t always save us from suffering, but He has consistently promised His presence, He has promised to be with us in our suffering. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4).

Jesus With Daniel. Daniel is a central figure in Hebrew history. Deported from Jerusalem to Babylon, he was a young man of high ability, and he kept rising in Babylon’s ladder of success. After interpreting a troubling dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s, Daniel gave all the credit to God in a powerful tribute to the Lord: “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though He is surrounded by light. I thank you and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me the wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.” (2:20-23, NLT). 

The King immediately promoted Daniel to the king’s court to be a ruler over the whole province of Babylon, much like a Prime Minister today. He was also given leadership over all the king’s counselors and wise men. Daniel was a trusted statesman in enemy territory, and continued as a leader in civic affairs, for over 70 years. The secret to Daniel’s success was his profound prayer life. He was a prophet who predicted military and political events, and was given visions of the inner workings of the heavenly court. His ancient prophetic insights are still being investigated for their contemporary relevance to this day. Daniel was described well in 5:11-12, “There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods… found to have insight, understanding and wisdom like that of the gods. This man Daniel has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems.” 

Daniel somehow figured out how to wisely walk that tightrope of working effectively in a pagan culture, while at the same time remaining faithful to God. When he was almost 90 years old, king Darius issued a foolish edict that all prayers should be directed towards him. Daniel, however, continued to pray three times a day to Yahweh as he has his whole life in Babylon. He courageously prayed in the open for all to see, unafraid of the consequences. As expected, Daniel was discovered in his prayers and thrown into a den of lions as punishment. But the Lord sent an angel to shut the lion’s jaws, and Daniel escaped unscathed. (6:21-22). After his divine rescue, Daniel once again prospered as a highly respected official in the king’s court.

Daniel continued having visions which even he didn’t understand. Twice, in fact, the angel Gabriel had to interpret his visions. Daniel’s famous intercessory prayer in chapter 9 concerned his sins and the sins of his people. He willingly advocated for his people and shouldered his people’s sinfulness. We are told by historians that by the time chapter 10 comes to us, king Cyrus has allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Daniel decided to remain in Babylon. Why? Knowing Daniel, he was merely obeying God’s orders to continue the work he has been doing all these years. Daniel was around 90 years old by this time, which would have made that long return to Judah quite difficult anyway.

One time later in his life we find Daniel fasting for three weeks (chapter 10). He witnessed an extraordinary sight while standing on the bank of the Tigris River in Babylon. He saw a heavenly Christ standing before him… pure linen clothing, a belt of pure gold, a body that looked like a precious gem, a face flashing lightning bolts, and arms and feet that shone like polished bronze. This figure of Christ also had eyes that flamed out like torches, and his voice roared like the sound of a multitude of people. This sight is virtually identical to John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1:13-15. This heavenly Being in front of Daniel is certainly Jesus Christ. Daniel’s strength left him, his face grew pale, and he fainted at this amazing sight. With his face to the ground, Jesus touched him and lifted him up. Daniel then stood upright, still trembling from head to foot.

Then a second heavenly visitor, probably the angel Gabriel, came to earth and told Daniel that he was precious to God and he should listen carefully to everything he has to say. The divine Messenger explained that he was delayed in coming to Daniel, despite his prayers, because of spiritual warfare. A powerful spirit prince of Persia was contending with him in the spiritual realm. Maybe we shouldn’t worry if an answer to our prayers seems delayed. This frightening message once again caused Daniel to lose the ability to talk. But Gabriel touched Daniel’s mouth. Daniel shuddered and croaked out his state of emotions, filled with anguish and weakness, and having a hard time breathing. Daniel said to Gabriel, “How can someone like me, your servant, talk to you, my lord?” (10:17). Daniel was still overwhelmed, and once again Gabriel touched him to give him strength and a measure of peace. The angel stated that he must return to that spiritual battle, but first he must reveal Israel’s future, and that of the Gentiles (ch. 11). The end time is then prophesied, and Biblical scholars since then have debated how to interpret these words. It is prophesied that at the time of the end, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (12:4).  Are we there yet? We have unprecedented mobility on our planet, and certainly technical and scientific knowledge has increased beyond anyone’s imagination. Of course, only God knows when the end will come.

We just need to be ready for the end when it comes. We should ask God’s help as we juggle our lives in a pagan culture, just like Daniel. We could also learn how to pray like Daniel, praying through the inevitable spiritual warfare that is engaged right now in the spiritual realm. These hidden but real battles were not limited to Daniel’s time. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12).