Daniel 7: The Kingdom will be Given to the Saints

Chris Koelle - History of redemptionDespite the difficult details and apocalyptic flavour of Daniel, the overarching theme is not too complicated and I think correctly summarised as: “God is sovereign. He overrules and eventually will overcome human evil” (Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament). In my previous post, on Daniel 6, I attempted to highlight the book’s juxtaposition of Yahweh’s divine sovereignty and humanity’s derived power. Kings delude themselves into believing that within their remarkably brief lives they possess omnipotence, answering only to themselves. As each bright human star fades from view, Daniel’s point is clear: Yahweh alone rules forever and because he gives dominion to mankind, every person is answerable to him. Commenting on Daniel 4, Ernest C. Lucas writes that the imago Dei means humans have the right to rule (and much good is achieved by human rulers who recognise Yahweh’s rule over and through them) yet when humans try to be God they forfeit that right, becoming “bestial.” The desire to rule autonomously has corrupted our God-given rule over the rest of creation. And I think Daniel 7, undergirded by covenant theology, presents the Lord’s plans for our glorious reinstatement.

If we follow covenant theology, in Genesis 1-2 Adam and Eve who are made in God’s image and likeness were commissioned to work as Yahweh had and, following the pattern set by their Creator, bring their work to completion and ultimately rest (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, p40). The conclusion of the Eden narrative, the telos of creation, was something not fully present in the Garden. VanDrunen writes, “The first Adam did not bear God’s image in order to work aimlessly in the original creation but to finish his work in this world and then to enter a new creation and to sit down enthroned in a royal rest.” As image bearers our future was always to carry out Yahweh’s dominion as co-regents in the new creation once we had fulfilled our task given in the covenant of creation. Michael Horton (Introducing Covenant Theology, p106) puts it like this: “Humankind would lead creation into a triumphal procession into the consummation, represented by the Tree of Life.” Horton utilises Ancient Near Eastern language to develop this idea, saying that Adam and his posterity were to take their place as vassal rulers beneath the great Suzerain King. But this work, perfectly assigned to those in God’s likeness, was frustrated through and ultimately fails because of sin.

Book of Revelation - Chris KoelleThe reversal of mankind’s rebellion and their reinstatement towards an eschatological reign is looked for throughout Scripture (see this theme in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce). One allusion to this theme found in Daniel 7 is, in my opinion, often overlooked as the mysterious “son of man” steals our attention. This figure is presented before the Ancient of Days and invested with everlasting dominion (7:13-15). Far from being some abstract divine transaction, this vision anticipates the eternal destiny of man. N.T. Wright (Simply Jesus, p158) says this enthroned “son of man” is literally a human being and stands as a symbol of the faithful people of God. It is through this figure, who we might call a “figurative head”, that the faithful saints will receive everlasting dominion (7:18, 22, 27). God’s faithful people are not only vindicated in the book of Daniel but the glorious promise of reinstatement is clearly reiterated, through the reign of the Son of Man. Read Paul’s wonderful juxtaposition in Romans 5:17, ‘as death reigned through Adam, those who receive abundant grace the free gift of righteousness will reign through Jesus Christ.’ The reversal of the fall in Eden will be achieved and rest will be attained through the mysterious and powerful Son of Man; when he receives the kingdom of the Most High, all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the saints.

Revelation 21-22 - Chris KoelleFor the original readers of Daniel, the Son of Man was a momentously encouraging figure, for he shares his dominion with God’s people. It is an important point because Daniel’s vision also looks forward to ferocious and violent human kingdoms that stand opposed to Yahweh and his people. Very similar imagery can be seen in Revelation 13 where a bestial human kingdom makes war on the saints, and John records, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” While ultimate triumph is secured in Christ’s headship, that day is yet to come. I am sure this is why Daniel closes with the promise that God’s faithful people who die, sleeping in the dust of the many troubles history throws up, will awake to everlasting life (Daniel 12:1-3). We wait, with the many who have gone before us, for the consummation of Jesus’ enthronement that is still to come. “Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and forever” (Revelation 22:5).

Doodle: An Interpretation of C.S. Lewis’ Lizard

the-great-divorceIn his small masterwork, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis tells the peculiar story of a Ghost being confronted by an Angel. Sitting upon the Ghost’s shoulder is a small lizard, incessantly whispering in his ear. The Ghost is heading back to whence he came because the lizard, who promised to remain silent, repeatedly disturbed the silence of the liminal plain, separating the dark lands and the effervescent mountains, heaven. This is where enlivening conversations take place and the prospect of becoming complete people is presented to comparatively frail and insubstantial ‘Ghosts’ from far off. I really hope you read the entire book. If not then the chapter concerned can be found here.

The Angel offers to free the Ghost from the lizard, who has a powerful hold over him. Despite being embarrassed by it and having to limp away from the splendidly hopeful mountains, back to the dislocated and desolate place he came from, it is unthinkable that the Angel must kill the lizard in order for him to be free. It is an odd event in the narrative. But what is it about?

When the Angel begins to uncouple the lizard and the Ghost it is agonising for the latter. Amidst the dialogical fireworks, the lizard furiously pleas for its life and swears it will be obedient in the future. The Ghost doubts he can endure the hurt, of losing his little companion, or going through with the painful parting that he knows will mean restoration. The Angel needs permission from the Ghost before removing the lizard and giving the Ghost his freedom. Though his suffering feels like dying the Ghost realises, “It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

red-lizardThen, “the Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.” Before the eyes of the narrator the Ghost begins to grow “solider”, “brighter” and “immense”. But something happens to the lizard too. Far from dying, it grows bigger and is transformed, becoming a splendidly silver and white stallion. He who was previously a mere Ghost, leaps onto the horse’s back and together they ride like a shooting star towards the mountains, “into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.”

What does it mean? Why did Lewis devote a whole chapter to tell this story? Is he explaining the desperate difficulty of conversion, dying to our self? Is it a picture of mortification, the agony of stripping away the old nature? Perhaps it is an example of the tension between human responsibility and God’s gracious salvation. Could it be the prolepsis of a prevalent theme in Till We Have Faces, as Rowan Williams puts it, “The impossibility of forcing any person to accept love and the monumental and excruciating difficulty of receiving love when you are wedded to a certain picture of yourself”? While these are fascinating interpretations I am going to suggest something else: a thought I had reading David VanDrunen, Living In God’s Two Kingdoms (especially p43-44).

The cultural mandate, given to Adam and Eve, was to rule and exercise authority over creation. They were to protect the Garden’s holiness, as faithful and obedient custodians. Their covenant with God meant that any challenge or attempt to usurp the Creator’s rule and his imprinted authority on them was to be destroyed. But they, as well as us today, are not the creaturely sovereigns he intended us to be. For the serpent, both a tempter and an intruder, was allowed to defile God’s pure Eden through Adam’s failure in exercising his kingly dominion. The regrettable result of this is highlighted by the author of Hebrews, who says we do not see everything subject to man, as it was meant to be (2:8). So presently the natural world is outside our sphere of control; we are at odds with its formidable force. This is not what the Creator intended. We were created to rule. But Adam’s careless inversion of the created order, placing himself under the dominion of the serpent, would have lasting and disastrous effects for his heirs.

MountainSunrise_0The picture that Lewis paints in this chapter is of wondrous restoration, reclamation of the Creator’s order. What was undone and reversed in Eden is put right. The Ghost no longer cowers beneath the lizard’s persuasive weight. He is not entrapped by its subversive whisperings. He now towers over the glorious stallion as a more magnificent ruler. Lewis’ picture forces our gaze to that everlasting morning. Despite standing somewhere in between, we are not stranded but hopeful, sure that God is making all things new; he will re-invert what Adam wrecked. This is one of the things Lewis does so vividly in The Great Divorce, and throughout his other works; he enlarges our view of glory and God’s restoration.

Thoughts on Sodom, the Same-Sex Marriage Debate, & Kingdom Theology

Gay marriageFrom time to time my church runs a type of ‘think tank,’ lead by a member of staff. We discuss culture, ethics and the Christian worldview, along with our approach to the secular world. A few weeks back we considered the same-sex marriage debate. I do realise that this is much more than a topical debate for many and because of its sensitive (as well as volatile) nature I encourage generous reading. I have written previously on the topic of homosexuality, here, but I am always hesitant to because of the milieu of warring factions and wounded people. So by way of preface, let me say that this post is an attempt to answer whether Christians should impose a Christian sexual ethic on our governments or culture, those outside the auspices of the church and Christ’s lordship.

As many discussions on homosexuality often tend to go, someone reached back into the Old Testament and brought up – ‘brought out’? – Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). ‘These events clearly show that homosexual relations signify the near death and utter derailment of society; Sodom and Gomorrah had to be wiped out. And the unruly time of Judges ends up at this same dire situation: homosexuals run rampant, indicating that society is all but lost (Judges 19).’ But is that really what these passages are about? Do these two instances pinpoint homosexuality as the terminus of a godless society? A terminus which we should attempt to spare our society from? To put it crudely, quoting Kim Fabricius, both incidents are “about gang-bangs”. If one turns up Ezekiel 16:49-50 these debauched events are brought into clearer light. As Andrew Marin says, “[they] are described as overfed, unconcerned, nonjustice-minded people who tried to potentially and literally rape their guests”. These passages are not directly addressing the issue of homosexuality. Though, I do believe they model people who did not know Yahweh or had wandered far into idolatry.

Sodom & GomorrahTheir idolatry had carried them into unrighteousness, godless orgies, and passionate inhospitality, a fair description of culture through history. Idolatry, the worshiping of other gods – along with or apart from Yahweh – was the root cause not only of their immorality but also their judgment. Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 11 thunder loudly against those who would use these stories to argue that we should save our society from sin by imposing regulative Scriptural ethics. To quote our Lord, “It will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (11:24), ‘you’ being those who did not repent at the preaching of the kingdom of God (11:20), the heralding of Jesus the Messiah (11:2). Where does this leave us? To exaggerate the implication of our desire to impose Christian ethics on our secular society: we should lobby against religious freedom. Surely our biggest concern should align with Jesus’. In which case let us not go halfway in merely enforcing biblical sexual ethics; let us demand allegiance to Christ our Lord and remove the space for idolatrous beliefs and religions.

David VanDrunen's bookBut there is another question, which in my opinion bears significantly on this discussion: the two-kingdoms debate. Having recently read a few titles from N.T. Wright and David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms I realised that the conversation about Christianity and culture shares massive points of contact with the same-sex marriage debate. I appreciate that those belonging to both positions possess a more nuanced theology than those summarised from Wright and VanDrunen and outlined (below). But for the sake of the larger question at hand I will favour reductionism.

Wright – a major proponent of the redemptive transformation of culture, or the one-kingdom approach – argues that Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom and that the kingdom project is continued by Christians bearing witness to Jesus’ lordship and holding authorities accountable to it (p223, Simply Jesus). While we do not oppose everything that the government does we must critique, denounce, and speak up where need be (p224). That is how Jesus exercises his sovereignty today and makes his kingdom a reality.

On the other hand we have the two-kingdoms approach, which distinguishes between the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants, the common and redemptive kingdoms. Within this view it is held that we do not impose Scripture’s authority onto the common kingdom for the church must tend to its God-given business in announcing God’s salvation (p31, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms). Despite VanDrunen’s attempt to have his cake and eat it, in his discussion on politics (p194-203), politics belong undeniably within the realm of the common kingdom (p194). This must mean that in matters of ethics and the authority of Scripture we cannot justify imposing Christian morality and norms. Misty Irons helpfully reminds us that Christ’s lordship is the very reason we can submit to the government, Christian or not. She strongly challenges the devotion of our energies into legislating the Bible. She is, I think, much more consistent in praxis with her two-kingdoms theology than VanDrunen is with his.

Andrew Marin's bookSo what is our place in the debate? Before anything else we need to figure out whether we hold to the redemptive view of culture or belong to the redemptive kingdom. And to potentially disregard the question entirely, having recently read Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, I am convinced our primary role in the world is not legislation. Nor is it retreat. It is gospel proclamation. Andrew Marin says, “The way forward with the GLBT community is not a debate on the Bible’s statements about same-sex sexual behavior but a discussion of how to have an intimate…relationship with the Father and Judge.” If we wish to speak out then we should take the line Justin Welby recently did, and many others have: ask what is best for society at large. Will a redefinition of marriage undermine families as the base communities and cornerstone of society, a normative place for child rearing, and the idea of marriage as a covenant? That is a question for another blog post.