Thursday, 28 November 2013

Future Empires destroyed by The Stone

Daniel Chapter 2

If we are seeking to understand the work and life of Jesus of Nazareth, we will soon find ourselves deep in hundreds of prophecies. Many Old Testament texts are applied to Jesus in the New Testament, but this text, Daniel 2 is not, though it is one which Jewish scholars have had great difficulty in explaining, to their satisfaction.

His thoughts on His solitary times into the hills of Galilee, surely often focused on these prophetic texts. Timing was key if all was to be fulfilled as it was foretold. Jesus told his mother at Cana, “My time has not yet come” but the seconds and minutes were ticking away, until He revealed His identity and inaugurated His Kingdom. Christian scholars, from Augustine to Luther and Calvin, have believed that this inauguration is foretold in Daniel Chapter 2. We have to assume that Jesus believed this.

Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel starts with King Nebuchadnezzar dreaming in his Babylonian palace, in modern Iraq, now the desolate haunt of owls. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which he felt was divinely sent , but on waking he had forgotten it, literally “it had flowed away”. His Magi and sorcerers, the wise men of the Babylonian Empire, could not recount it nor explain it to him. So he threatened them with imminent death and the demolition of their homes. Daniel, a Jewish senior civil servant, also subject to this death sentence, gained time to gather a Jewish prayer group together which prayed that God would show Daniel the lost dream and its interpretation. This prayer was granted. The dream was that a statue had appeared with a golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze torso and iron and clay feet, literally feet of clay. The clay did not mix with the iron of the feet. Then a stone was cut from from the mountains, hit the statue, pulverised it and grew to fill the whole world.

Daniel asked to see the King Nebuchadnezzar and to explain it to him. Daniel told him that the various metals denoted historical kingdoms and the stone is an everlasting Kingdom. Both Calvin and Luther explain the dream like this.
  • Head of gold - Babylon
  • Breast and arms of silver- Medo-Persia 
  • Belly and thighs of brass- Hellenistic Greec
  • Legs of iron - Rome 
  • Feet partly of iron and partly of molded clay - The divided Roman Empire 
  • Stone which fills the world, the eternal is the Kingdom of Christ. 
Jewish scholars, over the centuries, have debated this interpretation to avoid the iron kingdom being the Roman Empire and, ergo, Jesus being Messiah. Calvin, who debated with Jewish Rabbis, says that they evaded all "common sense" to interpret the iron as the Turkish Empire, or as we would say now “the Muslim world”. Interestingly, Calvin explains that nothing can extinguish the Kingdom, because it is divine and dispersed throughout the world.

Jesus Christ heard this passage, no doubt from His earliest childhood. In choosing his timing, He surely interpreted the stone as His eternal Kingdom. His Kingdom would grow huge like a mustard tree and destroy the iron of the Roman Empire. He knew this as He stood bound before Pilate.

Some commentators discuss what the “clay” is. They suggest it is weak democracy as opposed to strong autocracy or dictatorships. The “clay” could be the Eastern Roman Empire, the Hellenistic world into which Jesus was born. The divide between Rome and the East was deep and destabilised the Roman Empire. Eventually, a weakened decadent Empire fell to the invading barbarians. Others have suggested that Christianity did not destroy the Roman Empire, because it destroyed itself, through infighting and decadence. I have not yet to read Gibbon, the Roman historian on this topic! Others argue that Christianity has not taken over the world, even though it pervades the world, in a dispersed manner. If Christianity does indeed fill the world, it is surely due to the Reformation.

There have been historic periods when the divine Kingdom has seemed to have been completely extinguished. There was a long medieval period when the true Gospel, of Scripture and grace, was fiercely opposed and cruelly crushed, throughout Europe. But small pockets of believers resisted, such as the Waldensians. They hid in the Alpine valleys of Piedmont from the 12th century studying the Bible in remote training schools in the invincible mountains. They stood firm inspite of fierce attacks. Some might argue that their witness was ordained by God Himself and that their resistance had been foretold through the dream of a Babylonian King.

This dream, according to Calvin, was given through the Book of Daniel to the Jews, to keep them from despair during the reign of three cruel empires. I would hazard that this dream was given to Christians as an blessed assurance that though the Christian faith may dim, it will never be extinguished from the world. 

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