Theme A Revisited: God will Overthrow Pagan Kingdoms & Replace Them with His Own Kingdom (Daniel 7)
For an explanation of the themes in and structure of the Book of Daniel, see the section "The Big Picture in the Book of Daniel".
Chapter 7 brings us back to its first theme of the Book of Daniel. God will someday replace the corrupt kingdoms of this world with his own kingdom. Like Daniel and his companions, by God’s grace we may find a way to get by — and perhaps even a way to thrive — as exiles here in the meantime. Yet the chief hope we have lies not in making the best of the present situation, but in anticipating the joy of coming kingdom of God.
Therefore perseverance becomes a crucial virtue. We have to persevere until Christ returns to put things to right. Perseverance is a virtue praised in classical philosophy and in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Sometimes we encounter it in quotable packages, such as Einstein’s admission, “It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.” The New Testament confirms the value of perseverance: “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Perseverance in the life of the believer has its basis and source in the Lord God. It is not a matter of human integrity or honor. Christian endurance rests on the veracity of God’s eternal covenant promises.
Beginning in Chapter 7, the Book of Daniel becomes frankly apocalyptic in genre. Apocalyptic literature, a special kind of prophetic oracle, describes the cataclysmic events of the last days. It was widespread in early Jewish and Christian literature. Among its traits are a rich symbolism (chapter 7), description of the final universal battle between good and evil (Dan. 11:40-12:4) and a heavenly interpreter who explains the meaning of the vision to the prophet (Daniel 7:16, 23; 8:15; 9:21-23; 10:14). The prophet is exhorted to persevere faithfully until the vision is fulfilled (Dan. 7:25-27; 9:24; 10:18-19; 12:1-4, 13). This literary form accentuates the author’s message about perseverance.
Chapters 7-12 recount how Daniel received haunting visions, which he reports in first-person testimony. The net result is a series of prophecies that envisages the tribulations of God’s people at the hands of despotic leaders but which end in triumph secured by God’s appointed deliverer. The book ends with an exhortation of perseverance to Daniel. “Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days. But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days” (Dan. 12:12-13).
Oppression against God’s people is a constant theme of these chapters (Dan. 7:21, 25; 9:26; 10:1). The oppressor — revealed by history to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes — is described in disturbing surrealistic images. He is the vicious “little horn" (Dan. 7:8), who establishes the “abomination that desolates" (9:27), and the “contemptible person” (11:21) who rejects the traditional gods of his ancestors, making himself to be the supreme deity. Such hatred for the people of God is only surprising to those who have been sheltered from totalitarian regimes and civil strife. Much of the Christian community in our world today, however, suffers from varying degrees of repression — from economic and educational restrictions to imprisonment and martyrdom. Christians in the west seldom presently suffer in such violent ways. Nevertheless, people of faith in the workplace often experience alienation, harassment and, in some cases, censure or dismissal. Although the choices are not as grave —whether to face death or not — the nature of the decision is the same as that faced by believers in past eras. Do we compromise our convictions or do we adhere to our profession as Christians, though it may result in some form of loss? Daniel's life and prophecies exhort us to be stalwart in our first devotion. Paul derived the same application for his audience when considering the future resurrection of the saints, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The message of assurance from chapters 7-12 for workers is the assurance of a final reckoning that will justly reward the faithful work we do in life. In the here and now, good work is not always rewarded according to its honorable contributions to society. Its results are not even visible to us in many cases. Daniel and his friends turn the hearts of kings not once but many times. But it wasn't long before the kings reverted to their old selves. So in our workplaces, our role as salt and light can hold back evil, but often will not lead to a permanent change. This doesn't diminish our responsibility in being salt and light, but the fruits of our labor will not be fully visible until the kingdom of God is fulfilled.
John Whitehorse, “Antiochus,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1.269-70.