The Global Message of Daniel
Daniel in Redemptive History
The book of Daniel recounts events of worldwide proportion in Daniel’s own day that continue to have decisive significance for the global church today.
Israel’s homelessness. Daniel was a Jew who lived far from his homeland, about six hundred years before Christ. He first served under Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, and then under the Persian king Cyrus. As with other prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Daniel lived and wrote in the swirling events associated with the exile of Judah to Babylon in the sixth century b.c. It was a tumultuous time for God’s people.
What was especially painful was the apparent end of Israel’s special covenant relationship with God—including their presence in the long-awaited and hard-won Promised Land (Numbers—Joshua). Exiled from this land, Israel seems to have forfeited their relationship with God through their persistent faithlessness. Yet the book of Daniel confronts such discouragement in at least three ways.
God’s encouragement. First, Daniel reminds us that God will not abandon his people. In a long prayer Daniel declares that Yahweh is “the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Dan. 9:4). This does not mean God keeps covenant only with those who never sin—the very next verse of Daniel’s prayer acknowledges his and others’ sin (9:5). Rather, for those who trust the Lord, despite their sin, he will prove faithful to redeem and finally restore them. Second, we learn that wherever God’s people are in the world, God provides them the means to be faithful to him. Suffering through exile does not prevent faithfulness. Third, we see in Daniel that God’s plan to bring blessing to all the nations has not been foiled, despite the disobedience of his people. Rather, God governs all world events through his sovereign power and good pleasure, and he is determined to bring his saving presence to all the ends of the earth.
Finally, the book of Daniel plays its role, along with every other Old Testament book, in preparing us for the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. For example, Daniel speaks of one “like a son of man” who comes in great power and glory (Dan. 7:13–14) and Jesus draws on the language of Daniel 7 to describe himself as the “Son of Man” in the Gospels.
A cosmic war. Viewing Daniel from a broad perspective, we see in this book the way God’s kingdom always clashes with this world’s kingdoms. Ultimately we see this conflict come to a climax in Christ, who ushers in God’s kingdom even as he is rejected by this world’s kingdoms, both religious (the Jews) and irreligious (the Romans). And in Revelation, picking up much of the imagery of Daniel, we see the final clash between “Babylon”—the godless superpowers of this world, led by Satan—and faithful believers, led by Christ.
Universal Themes in Daniel
Strangers and exiles in this world. Daniel and his friends lived in a hostile environment in which their fundamental loyalty to God was deeply tested. Their presence in Babylon, serving in the king’s court among a foreign people unfriendly toward the God of the Jews, is a picture of what it means for believers all around the world to live in similarly hostile environments. The apostle Peter called the first-century Gentile believers to whom he wrote “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:2) and “sojourners” (1 Pet. 2:11). Just as God’s people were scattered (“dispersed”) from the Promised Land in Daniel’s time, so believers today are scattered throughout the world, often outnumbered and living among antagonistic people groups. The book of Daniel is encouraging as it provides a portrait of what faithfulness in such situations looks like. It reminds us that faithfulness to God is our glad duty no matter what may result (see Dan. 3:16–18).
God’s sovereignty over world affairs. Throughout Daniel, and especially in chapters 4–5, we see God’s utter sovereignty over global affairs. As mighty King Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “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” (Dan. 4:35). This was deep comfort for God’s people in Daniel’s day as they were reminded of the Lord’s invincible sovereignty, and the same holds true today.
The Global Message of Daniel for Today
The book of Daniel has much to say to the global church today. In Daniel we see God exercising his sovereign wisdom over all world affairs, even the actions of the most powerful individual rulers of his day. In a world of clashing ideologies and godless worldviews, it is easy to lose hope that truth will prevail. Conflicts rage all around us, great and small, including at times systemic oppression of whole people groups or nations.
The book of Daniel rebukes our weak faith amid such thoughts. For Daniel himself lived in a time of unprecedented international strife. Yet we find in his prophecy an exalted view of God and a quiet trust in the Lord’s providential governing of all human affairs, even conflict and evil. The Lord always reigns in perfect righteousness.
Most wonderfully, we see in Daniel the sure hope of a coming ruler—“an anointed one, a prince” (Dan. 9:25)—who will put all injustice and wickedness to flight and restore the world and the people of God. He will come to “put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness” (9:24). He will be “like a son of man” and will be given glory so “that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (7:13–14). In Christ this anointed prince has come. He came once to inaugurate his rule two thousand years ago. One day he will come again to bring it to final and righteous completion.