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Tragedy & Triumph

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Archives / 1974 / August



Tragedy & Triumph

Desmond Ford
-chairman of the department of theology, Avondale College, Australia at the time this article was written



ONE OF THE grandest of prophetic panoramas is found in the seventh chapter of Daniel and it was written in the sixth century B.C. More than twenty-five centuries are compressed into less than thirty verses! The terrain of chapter two is repeated with much added detail. The mighty empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome are depicted, but the key emphasis falls upon two strange figures one a vicious "little horn," and the other the "Son of man" coming in the clouds of heaven. The scene of the judgment day climaxes the chapter with the accompanying event of the inaugurated kingdom of God.

We need not invent an interpretation for this prophetic panorama. It is clearly spelled out in verses 16-18 and 23-27. The word king used in verse 17 is synonymous with kingdom as is indicated in verse 23. Thus Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome the great empires mentioned in Scripture from the time of Daniel are again portrayed in prophecy. The ten horns from the fourth beast represent the divisions of the old Roman Empire, some of which remain as modern European countries. But what of the murderous little horn also springing from Rome after its division had taken place, the power that "made war with the saints," and which sought to "change times and laws" (verse 25)?

The Little Horn

The prophecy at this point tells the same story as our own hearts and our personal experience. We are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. It is obvious from the work of this little horn that it is a religious power, for it deals with religious issues and opposes those with a religion different from its own. But this power, though it practices worship to some degree, has lost the light of love and law. To comment upon this prophetic symbol is not to offer condemnation of any religious system or group. It is but to acknowledge the historical fulfillment of the tendencies of our common human nature.

The Bible testifies that declension inevitably sets in when the initial ardor for Christ begins to cool. Soon after the deliverance of a human family from the Flood, their descendants, for the most part, united in the apostasy of Babel. Within six weeks from the giving of the law on Sinai by God Himself to a redeemed people, there came the tragic lapse into idolatrous worship of the golden calf.

Centuries later God again delivered His people from bondage, this time that of Babylon, but the vast majority refused their freedom and remained in Babylon rather than return to Jerusalem. Of those who returned, the majority set about constructing their own homes in luxury rather than seeking first to establish the temple of God. By the time of the first advent the religious leaders of the most enlightened people on the face of the globe had hardened into ritualistic, self-righteous pedants, hating all who differed with them in the slightest particular. These religionists crucified the Lord of glory. And within less than a generation after Christ, the disciples were writing to warn the churches that many ungodly men had crept in unawares, and that, unless great care was exercised, the churches would fall away from righteousness to perdition.

The very apostasy against which the apostles warned accelerated in the centuries that fol lowed. With the "conversion" of Emperor Constantine, the church was brought into close liaison with the state, establishing a pattern that dominated medieval Europe until after the Reformation, and bringing a trail of error and woe.

Pagan Practices Incorporated

Because the Scriptures were inaccessible to men the instincts of the natural heart too often replaced the divine principles. Vestiges of pagan worship were readily incorporated into the Christian church, and the spirit of intolerance so natural to the unrenewed heart frequently bore sway.

When Christ sought followers, He presented the cross. To the multitudes that followed Him He had one message: "There went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not [love not less] his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:25-27).

But His church forgot this man ner of approach. By the third and fourth centuries of our era, converts were being won by smoothing out the differences between the religion of Christ and other faiths. At this time, for example, the Sabbath of the fourth commandment became gradually displaced by the pagan festival day of Sunday. The linking of church and secular government was the attempt to supply the lack of the power of the Holy Spirit. Pride, rather than humility, began to walk in state, not because the ancients were worse than the moderns, but rather because they were of the same weak nature as we are.

The little horn of Daniel 7 thus represents religion gone to seed the system of church and state that dominated medieval times. This supremacy endured for "a time, times and a half," three and a half prophetic years, or 1,260 actual years from A.D. 538-1798. (See Ezekiel 4:6 and Numbers 14:34 for examples of this year-day principle.) In 538, the last of three barbaric powers opposing the church clothed in civil authority was overcome, but in 1798 secular opposition in the form of Napoleonic armies suspended the European dominion of the church-state system. We can thank God that even during such dark centuries there were some who cherished the flickering lamp of truth. Of these, some stood in prominent places in the church while others were continuously persecuted by the religious authorities.

The Son of Perdition and the Son of Man

According to the prophecies of Revelation, the little horn will again dominate the world scene. The future is to see the restoration of intolerance and false worship. The nations of earth will unite under Antichrist, "the son of perdition," one who claims to follow Christ but who in character and practice denies Him. (See 2 Thess. 2:2-12 and compare John 17:12 and Rev. 13.) The evil confederacy will not be solely Catholic nor Protestant nor Jewish. It will be composed of all who have cherished the letter rather than the spirit, sight rather than faith, self rather than Christ. And Satan himself as an angel of light will dominate the confederacy in its last all-out attempt to bring peace to the world by its inforcement of certain religious practices. (See Rev. 16:13, 14.)

Let us not dwell further on this symbol. There is a better one to focus upon, even the "Son of man." This is the title Christ assumed for Himself when proclaiming the gospel. He is not just the Son of Abraham but the Son of man. He is brother to all men. He is representative man man as God intended him to be, man as saved man will eventually be. The term is used frequently throughout the Scripture in con texts calling for vindication. In this chapter it points to the deliverance and exaltation of the humble saints who have been oppressed. They are to be vindicated in the judgment (see verses 13-27). That vindication will be accomplished by One who Himself has been made as the off-scouring of all things, but who in lowly humility consents to be the Judge-Advocate of all who seek His intercession.

The contrast between the two dominant symbols of this chapter should be noted. On the one hand the little horn points to such spiritual declension as leads mere men to assume the prerogatives of God, seeking to change times and the law, and persecuting all who differ.

But the "Son of man" points to God Himself, who bowed low to assume humanity, enduring shame and obloquy, and death itself, to convince men of the love of the Deity for His creatures. The first symbol, man making himself God, points to the mystery of iniquity, but the other, God making Himself man, is the mystery of godliness. Martin Luther hit the nail on the head when he affirmed that it is Pope Self we have most cause to fear. The study of the prophetic pages of Daniel should result, not in our recriminations against systems other than our own personal "Ism," but in self-distrust, and in emulation of Him who humbled Himself for our salvation. If we are to stand through earth's final crisis and its reflection in the judgment above, it will be a result of soul union with the heavenly Son of man. Thus:

"It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His Spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross." --The Desire of Ages, p. 83.

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