What year is it? Depends who you ask!
You may have seen in the news that last Thursday, Chinese people around the world celebrated the beginning of a New Year, the “Year of the Goat”. Now it may seem a little strange to us that in China, New Years would be celebrated in the middle of February, but actually they have been using their traditional calendar system for at least the last 3,500 years, much longer than our Gregorian calendar, which was 1st introduced in Europe in 1582.
Actually the Chinese calendar has a lot of similarities to the Hebrew calendar found in the OT, because they are both lunar calendars – the length of each month is always 29 days – the time it takes for the moon to circle the earth. According to the Hebrew calendar we are in the year 5775, based on the traditional calculation of how many years it has been since God created the the world.
The European tradition of numbering years as BC & AD didn’t actually begin until about 500 years after Jesus’s birth. The problem with our dating system is that according to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod the Great. Historians tell us that King Herod actually died in 4 BC, so Jesus must have been born sometime before then, probably sometime between 4-6 BC
But even if that is the case, our dating system was intended to remind us that the most important event in human history was that moment when the creator of the Universe took on human flesh, and dwelt among us as a human being like you and I. As Paul says in Galatians 4:4 “When the time had fully come, God sent his son”
And the Bible itself reflects that momentous event as well, in its division between OT & NT. But in reality it all points to the same event. As we have been working our way through this series on SJOT, we have been discovering that the entire Bible really has one unified theme: God’s plan to bring restoration and redemption to a broken, fallen world through the coming of Jesus the Messiah.
As we said at the beginning of this series, while the Gospels give us 4 eyewitness account of the life & ministry of Jesus, and the rest of the NT explains the significance of those events for us today, the OT shows us how God was working through the history of his people, the nation of Israel, to prepare them for the future coming of the Messiah.
Part of that preparation was the way in which God spoke through the OT prophets. Last week we focused specifically on the prophet Isaiah, who was born somewhere around 750 BC. This morning we want to move ahead more than a century later, and look at Daniel, one of the most remarkable prophets we find in the OT.
Around 605 BC, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, and after he destroyed the city, he took many of the citizens of Jerusalem captive, and brought them back to Babylon.
Among them was a young man by the name of Daniel. We’re told in the 1st chapter of Daniel, that he was a member of the Jewish nobility, one of a group of elite young men who were handpicked to come and live in King Neb’s palace, to be trained to serve in his court:
“Young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace.” (Dan 1:3-4)
Daniel is perhaps most well-known for surviving his encounter with a group of hungry lions, but he was a remarkable young man for a number of other reasons:
1. Man of Integrity – in the opening chapters, we read how even as he was brought into this pagan king’s palace, he refused to compromise his principles or worship before the king’s idols.
2. Man of Wisdom – Eventually Daniel rose to become one of the highest officials in Babylon. He served for over 60 years first under Neb, and later under Darius, the Persian emperor. We could easily devote a whole series of messages to Daniel, but what I want to focus on this morning is how Daniel, like the other OT prophets, also looked ahead to the future coming of Jesus the Messiah.
1. He looks ahead to a coming king. In chap 2, King Neb has a dream, and he demands that all of his magicians & sorcerers not only explain the meaning of his dream but that they reveal the content of it as well. Of course none of them are able to do so, so Daniel prays and asks God to reveal it to him. That night Daniel has a vision in which God reveals the king’s dream and its meaning to him.
It turns out that Neb had dreamt of an enormous, dazzling statue and the statue had a head made of pure gold, chest and arms of slive, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. Then a huge rock comes and smashes the statue to pieces, and then grows to fill the whole earth.
Daniel explains that the golden head of the statue represents Neb and his kingdom. And the silver, bronze and iron parts of the statue are other kingdoms that will follow afterwards.
What is remarkable about this dream is that it basically outlines for us the next 600 years of history, and the rise and fall of 4 great empires.
Gold - Babylonian empire of Neb which lasted from 626-539 BC
Silver – In 438 BC, Cyrus the king of Persia conquered Babylon and ruled over the Persian empire (539 – 330 BC)
Bronze - Around 330 BC Alexander the Great swept across the Middle East all the way to India, after which Greek culture & civilization dominated the world for almost 2 centuries
Iron – In the 1st century BC the Romans began to conquer the whole Mediterannean world.
Because this dream so accurately predicts future historic events, many people today claim that the book of Daniel must have actually been written much later, perhaps as late as the 2nd century BC, and was simply recording what had already by that time taken place.
But I think there is a better explanation. As Daniel says in 2:28: “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future.” If God was the one who gave Neb the dream, and Daniel its meaning, then surely God was able to reveal through this dream what would take place in the centuries to come, just as he was also able to reveal the future coming of the Messiah.
And that brings us to the real significance of this dream for us today. Because not only does it predict these 4 future earthly kingdoms, but it looks ahead even further to the coming of yet another kingdom.
“While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. .. But the Rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel 2:34-35
Daniel then explains what this Rock represents:
"During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever.” (2:44)
It’s interesting that when we come to the NT, there are many places where Jesus himself is referred to as the Rock or the Stone. Peter calls him “the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him” (1 Peter 2:4) Paul writes: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame." (Rom 9:33)
And so here Daniel looks ahead to the future king who would establish a kingdom that would stand forever. This is the same one of whom Isaiah earlier said “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom… from that time on and forever” (Isa 9:7)
2. But not only does Daniel anticipate the coming of a future king, but at one point he also predicts that this king, the anointed one will be put to death, and the exact year when this would happen.
In chap 9, Daniel receives a message from the angel Gabriel and this is part of that message:
"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.”
Now if you have been coming out to our Sunday night services you know that Pastor Laurie has refered a number of times to this passage, and explained that these “sevens” or “weeks” are in fact describing periods of years.
But what I want you to notice is that if you multiply this all out it’s saying that the “Anointed one” ie the Messiah, would be cut off or killed 69 x 7 or 483 years after a decree is given to begin rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. And when we look at subsequent events, we find that this prediction corresponds exactly to what actually happened.
While there were other decrees given in subsequent years, the first one was given by Artaxerxes the king of Persia in the year 457 BC gave Ezra the priest authority to return to Jerusalem & begin rebuilding the temple. (as recorded in Ezra 7) And if you go from that date, 457 BC and you add the 483 years that Daniel was told about by Gabriel, you end up in the year 27 AD. If Jesus was actually born as early as the year 6 BC as we mentioned earler, then in 27 AD he would have been 33 years of age, the exact age when he was crucified. My purpose here is not to confuse you with all the arithmetic, but to help us to see again the amazing way in which God prepared the way for the coming of his son.
3. And finally Daniel, like Abraham many centuries before, and the apostle John on the island of Patmos, also had a personal encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ. Daniel 10:4-6 -
On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.
We know that this encounter was very significant for Daniel, because he records the exact date that it happened. 10:1 tells us it was in the 3rd year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia. Historians can pinpoint this as the year 536 BC. They can also tell us that the 24th day of Nisan or the 1st month in the Hebrew calendar, would have been April 23. So we know that Daniel’s vision took place on April 23, 536 BC.
So can we identify this man that Daniel encountered in his vision?
There has been a lot of debate over this question, but let’s compare Daniel’s description with the one that the apostle John gives us in Revelation:
“Among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”
It seems pretty clear to me that when you set these encounters side by side, we have no choice but to conclude they are both describing the glorified Christ – it’s just that one takes place almost 600 years prior to his birth in Bethlehem, and the other one almost 100 yrs after
And what this confirms to me is what we have been saying all through this series: that Jesus is present in every book of the Bible, right from Genesis to Revelation.
If the Bible tells us anything, it is that Jesus Christ is sovereign Lord over all of human history whether BC or AD, whether OT or NT. As we read through the Bible, we see kingdoms rise and fall, but through it all, God is waiting for just the right moment to bring about what would become the central, most important event in human history. “…when the time had fully come, God sent his son”