Kings & Kingdoms (Sermon)
Overview of Daniel
Perspective is important. We easily get wrapped up in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment details of life, and before we know it we’ve lost perspective. If you don’t believe me, watch CNN, MSNBC or Fox News. They demonstrate a startling lack of perspective.
One way to know you’ve lost perspective is when you hear yourself speaking primarily in superlatives. When everything is the greatest or the worst...when “nothing will ever compare” to what just happened…when nobody or everybody is thinking, doing or saying the same thing, these are signs you’ve lost perspective.
Perspective explains the difference in reaction between you and your grandparents the first time your heart is crushed by a member of the opposite sex. You think the world has ended, and your grandpa smiles and says, “I think you’ll survive.” Perspective!
When I visited China for the first time, I was given a tour of a Chinese museum by an American who had lived and studied in China for more than 2 decades. In the tour, I leaned how China was repeatedly victimized by other nations during the past 200 years. The city we were in had, at one point, been divided up by a number of nations, like slices in a pie. Each nation claimed a slice and considered it their own sovereign territory. That museum tour gave me perspective. It opened my eyes and forced me to consider the actions of the Chinese in a completely different light.
The book of Daniel provides much-needed perspective on life in this world. It’s a book that helps us see past the limitations of our own view. It gives us the wide-angle perspective on this world—a perspective that is beyond our own reach.
This short, well-known book focuses on kings and kingdoms. It teaches us that earthly kingdoms will fall, but the kingdom of Jesus Christ will last forever.
The Failure of Earthly Kingdoms
The book opens with the failure of the nation of Israel. The setting is 605 BC and the nation of Babylon has just moved its armies against Israel.
The Failure of Israel
(Daniel 1:1-4 ESV) In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
What humiliation for Israel—treasures from their temple are taken to Babylon where they will be placed in a pagan temple as testimony that these false gods have defeated Israel. Their best and brightest young men are taken to be raised in the palace of the king of Babylon.
Less than 400 years before, Israel was the greatest nation on the face of the earth. David, their great king, had defeated all of their enemies. He had expanded the borders of Israel and collected gold, silver and precious stones for the construction of God’s temple. His son, Solomon, had taken Israel to even greater heights. He had constructed a breathtaking temple and a magnificent palace. Kings from all over sent him gifts as tribute. Everyone looked up to Israel.
But those days were gone. Bickering and infighting had caused Israel to split into two nations. One of the nations had already been defeated and ransacked, and now the remaining one was in the process of being destroyed by Babylon. Israel’s glory was gone. It had fallen.
The Failure of Babylon
But we witness more than the failure of Israel, we also see the failure of the nation of Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s leadership, Babylon had experienced a national resurgence. Their armies conquered many different nations, reaching all the way down into Egypt. As they conquered, Nebuchadnezzar had them bring back information and supplies to revitalize the nation, especially the capitol city of Babylon. During the time covered by the book of Daniel, Babylon had transformed into the greatest city in the ancient world.
Philo of Byzantium, writing 300 years later (around 250 BC), listed Babylon and its hanging gardens as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Though there’s some dispute today about the hanging gardens, there’s no dispute about the greatness of Babylon. Turn to chapter 4 and look at how Daniel described the greatness of Babylon. As he interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, he provided a picture of an impressive kingdom.
(Daniel 4:20-22 ESV) The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived—it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.
Daniel isn’t exaggerating to make a point. He’s not buttering the king up. He’s not being disingenuous. He’s acknowledging the power and majesty of Babylon and its king.
Turn to chapter 5. We’ve skipped ahead in time about 34 years. The great king, Nebuchadnezzar, is dead and his grandson Belshazzar rules in his place. While Belshazzar was hosting a drunken party, a hand appeared and wrote a message on the wall. Daniel was called in to the party to interpret what was written.
(Daniel 5:25-28 ESV) And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
(Daniel 5:30-31 ESV) That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
The kingdom of Babylon is done. It has been conquered. Less than 75 years since Nebuchadnezzar took the throne, his magnificent kingdom had failed.
The Failure of Future Kingdoms
In the first half of the book of Daniel, we witness the failure of Israel and the failure of Babylon. The second half of the book is full of visions. These visions produce countless debates by biblical scholars, but certain features are indisputable. One clear feature is that all future earthly kingdoms will eventually fall. None will last. They will all fail.
Turn ahead to chapter 8, and we’ll look at one representative example. Daniel had just seen a vision of a ram and a goat. As we read the interpretation, pay attention to the destiny of these kingdoms.
(Daniel 8:20-25 ESV) As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.
All of these kings rise up with their kingdoms and before long another king with another kingdom rises up to defeat them. It’s an endless cycle of failure. Chapter 11 affirms the failure of future kingdoms. If you read it, it sounds like a soap opera about kingdoms. This queen marries this king who becomes powerful before being attacked by this king. Over and over, kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. None last forever. Most don’t last long at all.
If you’ve watched the news the last few weeks, you’ve heard two presidential candidates talk a lot about the future. I won’t quote their speeches, but they both go something like this—“Vote for me and your future will be great. Vote for the other guy and your future will stink.”
Frankly, neither of them has any idea what the future holds. Neither can guarantee prosperity, success or security. Every four years, there’s an election in this country, and half of the country is weeping with joy and the other half is weeping with sorrow. Half think the future is saved, and the other half think the future is destroyed.
The book of Daniel provides us with perspective. Here it is: all earthly kingdoms fall. All of them do. Less than 250 years ago, there was no United States, and it’s possible that 250 years from now there won’t be a United States. I don’t say this to be gloomy, but to give you perspective.
At its height, the British Empire was the largest empire in world history. By 1922 the British Empire ruled nearly half a billion people, one-fifth of the world's population at that time. The empire covered more than 13 million square miles, almost a quarter of the Earth's total land area. At the peak of its power it was often said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" because of the vast number of its territories.[i] But that isn’t the British Empire of my lifetime.
Brothers and sisters, don’t put your hope in the future of America. Don’t put your hope in politics or politicians. Don’t put your hope in sweeping legislative reform. Christians tried that in the not-so-distant past in a movement called the Moral Majority. Cal Thomas was a key architect in that movement, a movement which was credited with electing Ronald Reagan and a conservative majority in the Senate. Cal Thomas wrote about their feelings of joy and pride after winning, certain they could stop America’s moral landslide. Just a few years ago he wrote:
“Two decades after Christians charged into the political arena, bringing new voters and millions of dollars with them in hopes of transforming the culture through political power, it must be acknowledged that [it] failed.”[ii]
Don’t put your hope in political transformation. Don’t put your hope in the future of America. Don’t put your hope in an earthly kingdom. All earthly kingdoms eventually fall.
Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be good citizens, working diligently for the good of our nation. Certainly Daniel provides us with an example of faithful service to God and faithful service to the nation where God had placed him. Listen to the instructions God gives to those living in Babylon.
(Jeremiah 29:4-7 ESV) Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
As Christians, we should be good citizens. We should seek the welfare of our city, state and nation. We should be productive and a blessing. We should encourage our government to fulfill its God-given mandate to protect the innocent and punish the evildoer (Rom. 13). That’s why Christians are vocal about the issue of abortion—if government’s role is to protect the innocent and vulnerable, who are more innocent and vulnerable than babies still in the womb?
It’s appropriate and biblical for Christians, like Daniel of old, to engage in the political process, seeking the welfare of the state. But we need to be mindful that we never put our hope in the state. We never put our hope in the political process. We don’t put our hope in an earthly kingdom. All earthly kingdoms eventually fall!
The failure of earthly kingdoms is the backdrop for revelation about God’s kingdom. The book of Daniel contrasts earthly kingdoms of man and the heavenly kingdom of God. It shows the stark difference between the rule of men and the rule of God. It offers us perspective on this world—perspective we would not get apart from God’s revelation. We’ve seen the failure of earthly kingdoms, and now we see:
The Greatness of God’s Kingdom
There’s no comparison between the two. Earthly kingdoms aren’t even a pale imitation of God’s heavenly kingdom. God sits enthroned upon the universe and He rules over all of the affairs of men. We see the greatness of His rule here in the book of Daniel in two primary ways.
God rules over all kings.
We’re going to look at a lot of verses very quickly here in the first few chapters that show God’s authority over all other kings so stay with me. Let’s start in chapter 1:
(Daniel 1:2 ESV) And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.
(Daniel 2:20-21 ESV) Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings;
(Daniel 2:37-38 ESV) You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—
(Daniel 2:47 ESV) The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
(Daniel 4:17 ESV) The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’
(Daniel 4:25-26 ESV) that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.
(Daniel 4:32 ESV) and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”
(Daniel 4:35 ESV) all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
(Daniel 4:37 ESV) Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven...
(Daniel 5:18 ESV) O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty.
(Daniel 5:21 ESV) He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.
(Daniel 5:23 ESV) but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
(Daniel 5:26 ESV) This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;
(Daniel 5:31 ESV) And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
There is no question who reigns. There may be many kings, but there is only one King of kings. There may be many lords, but there is only one Lord of lords. All power, majesty and authority belong to Him. He grants authority to humans. He rules over all kings.
God rules over all time.
In this book filled with the tales of kingdoms falling, listen to the descriptions given of God’s kingdom.
(Daniel 4:3 ESV) How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.
(Daniel 4:34 ESV) At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
(Daniel 6:25-26 ESV) Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.
Two pagan kings send letters of proclamation throughout their kingdoms that God lives forever and has a kingdom that will never end. That’s pretty amazing. Both kings make the connection between God being eternal and His kingdom being eternal. That’s an essential connection. The only way a kingdom could truly last forever is if its king lasted forever. God lives. He always has, and He always will. King David died. King Solomon died. King Nebuchadnezzar died. King Darius died. But God lives.
We see this in the name He’s given in chapter 7. Daniel has a vision of God and calls Him “the Ancient of Days”. God is eternal. He existed before time itself.
Our hope in God’s eternal kingdom is what allows us to be faithful in the midst of wicked, pagan earthly kingdoms. Daniel and his 3 friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, teach us how to live faithfully in exile. Brothers and sisters, we are in exile. If you’re a Christian, your citizenship is not here, it’s in heaven…in God’s kingdom, and it can be awfully difficult to know how to live as an exile in this world.
Daniel gives us an example. He shows us that our first responsibility is to obey God. Like Daniel when he was commanded not to pray or his 3 friends when they were commanded to bow down before an idol, we don’t bow our knee to earthly kingdoms. If there’s a conflict, we obey God rather than men.
We also see that life as an exile provides many opportunities to compromise. Daniel could have made excuses for eating the king’s meat in ch. 1. He could have altered his prayer routine in ch. 6. Shadrach and the boys could have rationalized why bowing before an idol was fine if they weren’t worshipping in their hearts, but they didn’t. They didn’t compromise. They understood that faithfulness to God requires sacrifice. Are you willing to sacrifice to remain faithful?
These men understood the temporary nature of earthly kingdoms, and they remembered the greatness of God’s kingdom. Whenever the two came in conflict, it made the choice easy. They would seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). They demonstrated a consistent unwillingness to compromise obedience to their true King. What about you? Do you remember where your true citizenship lies? Do you seek first the kingdom of God? Are you unwilling to compromise obedience to your King?
We’ve seen the greatness of God’s kingdom against the backdrop of the failure of earthly kingdoms. Now, turn to chapter 7. I want you to see one more thing. I want you to see how these truths merge together.
The Establishment of God’s Earthly Kingdom
(Daniel 7:13-14 ESV) I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
God will establish His kingdom on earth. He has given the kingdom to this one called “the son of man.” Who is this son of man? Well, we are given hints that He is both man and God. Since he is a son of man but comes from the clouds of heaven (v.13). We also know that the title of Son is important.
When mankind first sinned, God gave them the promise of a son who would liberate them from evil and restore the goodness of the original creation. Mankind’s history from that point forward was one of waiting for the promised Son.
In Psalm 2, we find out that this Son will reign as a King over all the earth. Listen to how the Psalm ends:
(Psalm 2:10-12 ESV) Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a vision of a statue. The statue represents earthly kingdoms. The giant statue is destroyed by a single stone, and then the stone becomes a kingdom. A giant defeated by a stone, and then a kingdom is born. That sounds familiar—it sound a lot like what happened to King David centuries earlier.
The Son will be a king from the line of David, and He will reign over a never-ending kingdom. This vision is of Jesus Christ, born from the line of David, who has brought the kingdom of God to earth, and who will one day return to establish in full His never-ending kingdom. Earthly kingdoms will fall, but the kingdom of Jesus Christ will last forever.
Friend if you’re not a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, He invites you to come. He invites you to join His kingdom. He came to this earth to rescue those enslaved to sin. He came to free those waiting to be judged for their acts of rebellion. He will gladly welcome you into His never-ending kingdom if you’ll renounce your rebellion, kneel before Him and declare that He is your Lord.
Brothers and sisters, we serve a king that will never fail. We are His servants. Look again at verse 14:
(Daniel 7:14 ESV) And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Are you a faithful servant of this King? Does your life reveal that He is master? Do your actions show that He is Lord? He is worthy of everything you have to give. He is worthy not only of your service, but also of your worship and praise. All dominion and all glory have been given to Him. All glory belongs to Him! It is rightfully His!
I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan, which is a painful thing to be. All of you State fans understand what I mean. It’s tough to cheer for a team that never wins. That’s my team. Imagine I walked around spouting off about how great they are. Telling everyone that they’re the best—the greatest of all time—even when the evidence says otherwise. Imagine I took it a step further. Imagine I tried to schedule a parade through the streets of downtown Minneapolis to celebrate the World Champion Vikings. Everyone would think I was crazy. It would be empty and meaningless because the glory of being called the best…of being called a World Champion does not belong to them.
All the glory in the universe belongs to Jesus Christ. All the praise in the universe belongs to Jesus Christ. All the worship in the universe belongs to Jesus Christ. The praise of every tongue, the song of every soul, the worship of every heart, the boast of every mouth—all of it belongs to Him.
As we live in the midst of a kingdom that will crumble, let us live for a kingdom that will stand forever. May our lives sing forever sing the anthem of our kingdom:
(Revelation 5:9-10 ESV) “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[ii] Quoted in Stephen Davey, I Pledge Allegiance: Politics for the Citizens of Heaven (Raleigh: Charity House, 2006), 62.