Keys to Teaching Christ in Daniel
Written by Josh Wredberg
Super-charged furnaces. Caves filled with lions. 10-day vegetarian diets. Cryptic angelic battles. 90’ tall golden statues. Kings living like wild beasts. Drunken parties. Overthrown governments. Mysterious floating hands. Terrifying visions. Wild beasts. The book of Daniel has it all. It was also written in two languages and has two distinct halves. But the memorable stories, strange dreams, and sealed scrolls combine to produce one overwhelming message. The God of Heaven “removes kings and establishes kings” (2:21), and one day in the future he will “set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (2:44). Because God wins, his people can trust him and refuse to compromise even when threatened with death. We can speak the truth boldly because we know our life is in God’s loving hands and our future is secure in his Son’s kingdom.
1:8—16: In what will be a recurring theme, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—refuse to compromise but remain faithful while in exile. Though the pressure to conform to Babylon is immense, they make a careful, prayerful decision to live as followers of the one true God in spite of the cost. The stakes will be raised throughout the book as Babylon constantly seeks their whole-hearted allegiance.
2:19—23: King Nebuchadnezzar has threatened the wise men of Babylon with death and dismemberment if they cannot reveal to him the meaning of his dream. Daniel asks God to help and his prayer is answered. In a deeply moving prayer of thanksgiving, Daniel rehearses God’s sovereign control over all things, including kings and kingdoms, times and mysteries. The truth of Daniel’s prayer is demonstrated throughout the remainder of the book.
6:25—28: The third king in the book of Daniel, King Darius, issues a decree following the safe removal of Daniel from the lion’s den. His decree echoes an earlier proclamation made by Nebuchadnezzar (4:1—3). Every people, nation, and language throughout the whole earth are to be told that the God of Daniel is the living God. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end for he rescues and delivers his people from death.
7:9—14: At the very center of the book of Daniel stands a clear vision of the messianic king receiving a kingdom that covers the whole earth and will never pass away. After God judges the nations of the earth, he gives all authority and dominion to one who looks like a man but comes on the clouds. This “son of man” becomes king over a worldwide kingdom.
9:22—27: While Daniel is praying for God to deliver Israel from captivity in Babylon, he is visited by the angelic messenger, Gabriel. Gabriel tells him God’s plan for the future is sure and can be measured in seventy groups of seven. The time when things will be perfectly complete is divided into smaller periods of sevens—seven sevens, sixty-two sevens, and one final seven.
12:13: Resurrection is pictured in the safe delivery of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace and Daniel from the lion’s den. But the final verse of Daniel promises resurrection in unmistakable terms. Daniel is told he will rest, and then he will rise. The faithful will be raised on the last day to populate the unending kingdom of Jesus Christ.
God’s Sovereignty: The book of Daniel is set in a palace flowing with all the signs of power and success. Mighty Nebuchadnezzar has defeated God’s people and made them subject to his rule. But in just the second verse of the book, the reader learns that God gave Israel into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. God sets up kings and brings down kingdoms. The one who rules in heaven is sovereign over all earthly rulers. What looks like earthly failure is part of his eternal plan to rescue his people and restore his broken world.
Faithfulness in Babylon: Faced with tremendous pressure to conform to Babylonian values and worship, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends choose to remain faithful to God. An early decision to not defile themselves with the king’s food prepares them to stand firm when threatened with death. Their choices demonstrate tremendous wisdom, and their actions become a Christian paradigm for faithfulness in the face of suffering (Revelation 2:10; 1 Peter 4:12).
Suffering then Glory: The author of Daniel deliberately draws out parallels between Daniel and Joseph. Both are taken as captives to a foreign land where they refuse to compromise their convictions. Both stand before kings and interpret dreams about the future. Both are exalted to positions of leadership at the king’s right hand. Both save innocent people from death. In both cases, they suffer before they are exalted. Suffering comes before glory. This pattern repeated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures reveals the path of the Messiah (Luke 24:26) and all who follow him (Romans 8:17—18).
Christ’s Kingdom: The greatest earthly kingdoms are built on unstable foundations and eventually crumble. The reigns of human kings, impressive for a moment, are always short-lived. A captive Hebrew slave outlasts mighty King Nebuchadnezzar because he belongs to a different type of kingdom. A mountain kingdom that expands until it fills the whole earth. This kingdom, presented to Jesus Christ by the unaging sovereign of the universe, starts small and unimpressive but eventually includes every people, language, and nation.
Daniel for You, David Helm.
A concise and approachable commentary on Daniel that focuses on the overall message of the book. Helm briefly explores various interpretations, but his exploration does not distract from the clear and relevant message of Daniel for Christians today.
The Message of Daniel, Dale Ralph Davis.
In this book on Daniel, Davis combines the warmth of pastoral preaching with the insight of a seminary professor. He covers weighty matters with sufficient depth without allowing the message to be weighed down and lost. The chapters are relatively short, making this an excellent resource not only for pastors but for anyone interested in understanding the message of Daniel.
Hearing the Message of Daniel: Sustaining Faith in Today’s World, Christopher J. H. Wright.
Originally a series of lectures given in India, Wright’s book expertly brings the reality of life in Babylon into the twenty-first century. He skillfully shows how faith in God’s sovereign rule and hope in his future kingdom sustained four young Hebrew men and can sustain Christians who face similar challenges today.
With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology, James M. Hamilton, Jr.
Not a verse-by-verse commentary, this book is a must-read for pastors prior to beginning a series on Daniel. Hamilton provides a structure for reading and understanding Daniel within its place in the Hebrew Scriptures that will aid every serious Bible student’s overall interpretation of the book.
Preaching Christ from Daniel: Foundations for Expository Sermons, Sidney Greidanus.
Applying his extensive work on hermeneutics to the book of Daniel, Greidanus runs each chapter in Daniel through his seven-fold grid for moving from Old Testament passage to fulfillment in Jesus. Though at times overly rigid, this book unlocks a Christological reading of Daniel missing in many other commentaries.
The book of Daniel provides a theology of history, not a timetable of history. Daniel is filled with the stories of real people living in real places experiencing real events. But these real people, places, and events are often used symbolically to teach larger truths about how God governs his world. Where many modern Bible students obsess over the timeline of events and the identity of kings and kingdoms, Daniel shows little concern. He focuses on the destiny of the kingdoms rather than their identity. In this we see the brilliance and relevance of Daniel for our time. We don’t need to identify precise earthly kingdoms because all earthly kingdoms share the same fate. They crumble and fall. Dust in the wind.
But the story of crumbling kingdoms does not continue indefinitely. It comes to a glorious end in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Confidence in his kingdom fuels zealous obedience to Christ even when death is on the line. The relevance of Daniel’s message is not found by plotting dates on a timeline, but by pledging allegiance to the king who reigns for all time.