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The focus of this article will be twofold. We will first explore the main themes and theological truths found in the book of Daniel. From these main themes and theological truths, we will consider the contribution the book of Daniel makes to the church today. Because of the nature of these two goals, this article will first focus largely on Daniel’s intentions in his writing, and from this, we will consider the application for the church in the modern era.
Main Themes and Theological Truths
The focus of the book can be clearly seen in the structure which Daniel employs. The Chiastic structure of Daniel has been well documented, even as there is some disagreement concerning certain details. For a simple explanation of what a chiasm is, click here. Below you will find the chiastic structure proposed by James Hamilton:
- Daniel 1, exile
- Daniel 2, statue: four kingdoms, everlasting dominion
- Daniel 3, delivered from the fiery furnace
- Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar humbled
- Daniel 5, Belshazzar humbled
- Daniel 6, delivered from the lions’ den
- Daniel 7-9, visions: four kingdoms, everlasting dominion
- Daniel 10-12, return from exile
The overarching theme which weaves itself through each part of this chiasm is God’s sovereignty. God’s powerful control of all things is displayed in the book of Daniel first in the way God humbles Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar in Daniel 4 and 5. The fact that this is a central theme of the book is also displayed in the way Daniel foretells the destruction of the prideful kingdoms of the world, especially the little horn from the final kingdom. God’s sovereignty is highlighted secondly in the way the Lord delivers his people in times of trouble. In Daniel 3 and 9 God delivers his people fiery furnace and the lion’s den. This theme is also seen elsewhere in the book with a promise of return from exile, the coming of a messiah, and in the promise of future resurrection. Third and finally, God’s sovereignty over history is also central. God’s sovereignty over history is most prominent in the correlating chapters of 2 and 7-9 as well as chapters 1 and 10-12. The Lord reveals to Daniel, often in intricate detail, what would take place showing that “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings, He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to me of understanding” (2:21).
God’s Sovereignty in Humbling the Proud
The central section of Daniel is focused on the humiliation of two prideful rulers; Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 4) and Belshazzar (chapter 5). Nebuchadnezzar is warned of his downfall through a dream which Daniel interprets. Even though Daniel warns the king, one year later Nebuchadnezzar praises himself in pride and “While the word was in the king’s mouth a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beast of the field’” (4:31-32). The text displays with great clarity that God humbles Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his pride and self-glorification. The chapter ends with Nebuchadnezzar recognizing the sovereign greatness of the Most High who lives forever (v. 34-35) and proclaiming the Lord is “able to humble those who walk in pride” (v. 36). Daniel’s point could not be clearer: The Lord humbles the proud.
Daniel continues the melody of divinely directed humbling into chapter 5, making this apparent by using several linguistic and thematic connections. Daniel recounts how, “Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles” (5:1). Careful readers will quickly suspect Belshazzar’s coming abasement as they continue reading about this feast. Belshazzar and the others drank wine from the vessels of the Lord from the temple of Jerusalem while they “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (v. 4). Much like the way 4:31 records that “while the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven,” 5:5 records, “Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall.” Terrified, they call Daniel in who reminds them of the way God brought down Belshazzar’s father Nebuchadnezzar for his pride (v. 20-22). Daniel then penitently declares, “yet you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven” (v. 23-24). In fulfilment of the writing on the wall, Belshazzar is slain that same night (5:30). In this central section, Daniel lifts up God’s sovereignty in humbling prideful kings.
God’s Sovereignty in Delivering His People
The central section of God humbling the proud is bracketed by chapters highlighting the way God delivers His faithful people from the wicked. Nebuchadnezzar commands Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bow down to a golden image which he set up. These three friends of Daniel refuse to bow down to the golden image and are therefore sentenced to be thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. Daniel then records the forward-looking challenge given by the king, “what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands” (v. 15). The three friends are then thrown into the blazing fire with what appears to be no hope of deliverance. The text then takes an abrupt change in tone as the three men remain alive in the fire and are even accompanied by an angel of the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar proclaims in amazement, “fire had no effect on the bodies of these men” (3:27). Nebuchadnezzar goes from saying, “what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” in v. 15 to proclaiming, “there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way” (v. 29). The Lord is able to deliver and save His people.
This same hope giving theme is taken up again in chapter 6 as we would expect with this chiastic structure. Once again, Daniel presents a pagan king, passing a legal verdict which God’s people must disobey, leading to another inescapable death sentence. This time, Daniel is to be thrown into a den of lions for his faithfulness to the Lord in daily prayer. This king, however, interestingly does not want Daniel killed and says to him, “Your God whom you constantly serve will himself deliver you” (v. 16). The king then comes back the next morning wanting to know if Daniel’s God has “been able to deliver him from the lions” (v. 20). Sure enough the next morning Daniel is unharmed. In the words of Darius, the king, “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (v. 27). The main theological truth of chapters 3 and 6 is simple: God displays his Sovereignty in delivering His people.
God’s Sovereignty in History
The next main sections of the book’s chiasm centers on God’s sovereignty in history. In chapter 2, the Lord gives Nebuchadnezzar dreams which he does not understand. These dreams, which only Daniel is able to interpret as the Lord reveals it to him, give a picture what is to “take place in the latter days.” (v. 28). As Daniel takes the time to thank the Lord for the interpretation, he highlights the sovereign power of God over all (v. 19-23). Daniel then gives the interpretation of this dream. In this strange dream, there are several world kingdoms introduced, each having a rise to power followed by complete destruction. In the end, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed” (v. 44) and “a stone is cut out of the mountain without hands and it struck the statue on its feet.” (v. 34, 45). Though each part of the statue seems powerful, the Lord’s kingdom is the only everlasting kingdom. God is sovereign over the kingdoms of the present and the future. As John Frame rightly asserts of God’s sovereignty, “Everything has come from God. He has planned and done it all. He has not merely set boundaries for creaturely action; he has made everything happen.”
The four kingdoms presented in chapter 2 arise again though in a different form in chapters 7-9. The kingdoms are no longer appear as parts of a statue but are now described as prideful beasts. Though God created Adam and commanded him to have dominion over the beasts of the field (Gen. 1:26), the kingdoms and rulers of this world descend into such wickedness that they can be described as animals. Just as the statue in chapter 2 is brought down by the stone cut with no human hand (2:45), the final prideful horn from the fourth kingdom is slain (v. 11) and the kingdoms are granted an “extension of life” for an “appointed period of time” (v. 12) until the Son of man comes with the clouds of heaven to set up his kingdom (7:13-14). This son of man is presented as a divine messianic king. His divine status is suggested in the way he comes “with the clouds of heaven” and the way God’s everlasting kingdom is now said to be His everlasting kingdom. His kingly and messianic status is clearly seen in Daniel’s use of previous scripture. This interpretive perspective of Daniel is important understanding for his underlying point. Daniel is highlighting the Lord’s sovereignty over history. God in this section is setting up kings and taking down kings until the time when He comes to set up His eternal kingdom ruled by His messianic king.
Daniel has more revelations in chapter 8 and 9 as well as in 10-12 which continue to give more information about these prideful kingdoms and their final demise. In chapters 8 and 9 The kingdoms are pictured as animals different from those in chapter 7, yet their primary two characteristics are still present, namely, pride (8:4, 8, 11, 25) and brevity (8:7-8, 14, 25). Furthermore, once again the final king who is exceedingly proud is “broken without human agency” (v. 25 cf. 2:34). Moving into chapter 9, Daniel prays for a return to the Land (v. 1-23) and then another revelation is given to Daniel concerning the time of the end. In this time, the Lord reveals that the messiah will be cut off and then a prince will rise in the final seven-year period who will set up “one who makes desolate” (8:27). God’s sovereignty over history is displayed in the way Daniel presents God as the one who directs these events to fulfillment from the time of Daniel, through the time of the Messiah, and into the last day when destruction is finally poured out on the one who makes desolate (v. 27).
Daniel’s Contribution to the Church Today
Now that we have examined the primary focus and themes of the book of Daniel, we now consider the contribution these themes make for the church today. The applications presented below arise from considering Daniel’s intention for the original readers and then bridging the context to our current day. The original readers of Daniel were near the end of Exile, and some would be just entering the land. Daniel knows, based on the visions God gave him, that in the future God’s people would face several wicked rulers and a final and ultimate enemy who would, for a short time, “make alterations in the times and in law” (7:25), remove worship and sacrifice to God (8:11, 9:27, 12:11), “trample on the holy place” (8:13), “cause deceit to succeed, and will magnify himself in his heart, and will destroy many while they are at ease” (8:25), and “he will give great honor to those who acknowledge him” (11:39). During this time of coming tribulation and “great distress” (12:1), many of God’s people will “fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder” (11:33). When we consider this information as well as the chiastic sections in Daniel, the authors implicational goals can be seen in the three concluding sections.
The Church: Unmoved by the Wicked
The first application from Daniel is that the Church must remain unmoved by the rulers of this world and the strength of the proud because we know their demise will soon come. Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 and Belshazzar in chapter 5 are representative of all who magnify themselves above God and glorify themselves. It therefore changes the way the church sees and responds to the wicked. The wicked people and kingdoms in this world magnify themselves even above God, yet they will soon be humbled. Therefore, we must not be moved or overly troubled by them. Furthermore, the final beast who comes in the 70th week is still to come and as John states, “children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared” (1 John 3:18). The book of Daniel instructs us on the fate of the wicked who refuse to humble themselves before the king of kings: humiliating demise.
The Church: Unmoved by Persecution
The second application comes out of the previous and flows into the final: The Church is to stand strong in persecution, endure suffering, and remain pure until the return of Christ. Daniel’s statement in 11:31-33 is a great summary of this,
“And they will set up the abomination of desolation. By smooth words he will turn the godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days.”
Daniel goes on to speak of some joining the ranks of the faithful in hypocrisy and some of the faithful being killed. But Daniel has a high hope and expectation for God’s people, declaring that many of them may be killed, but they will never be defeated. They will stand strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did in chapter 2, and as Daniel did in chapter 6. God’s people are to be unmoved by persecution, standing strong and taking action. The final word given to Daniel informs him that there will be 1,290 days of intense persecution after the abomination of desolation is set up, and then Michael states, “How blessed is the one who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!” (12:12). The 1,290 days refers to the three-and-a-half years we read about several times throughout the book and the 1,335 days refers to just a little bit more time. Daniel and the readers are being told, those who endure through the great tribulation and remain faithful to the Lord for just a little bit longer will be blessed. God’s people are to be unmoved by persecution.
As additional support for this understanding of Daniel, we can turn to the book of Revelation. John presents much of his apocalypse as a continuation and divine interpretation of Daniel. One of the key points which John makes as he uses Daniel, is that God’s people must stay strong and endure persecution until the end. John records the rise of a beast during the great tribulation who comes out of the earth (13:11) and he is presented as the typological fulfillment of the final beast in the book of Daniel who rises in the 70th week. This beast will cause all who “do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:15). Furthermore, those who do not receive his mark will not be able to buy or to sell, meaning that food, water, and shelter will be difficult for the faithful to obtain. But God’s people are not to worship the beast nor to receive the mark of the beast. John tells us,
“Then another angel, a third one followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:9-10)
We as the Church must stand strong in persecution, endure suffering, and remain pure until the return of Christ. Like Daniel and his friends, we are to remain faithful to the Lord even when wicked rulers seek to kill us, for we know that the Lord is powerful to deliver.
The Church: Encouraged
The final application is that the Church does not need to be discouraged when life is grim, because God is in control of it all. We see in Daniel that God is sovereign over all things, even down to the rise and fall of empires. God calls us therefore in the book of Daniel to trust in His plan and His purposes. Daniel reveals to us that this plan often includes suffering and pain. But even in the difficulties of life, the Church has great reason to be encouraged. The Lord, in the end, will consummate his kingdom and strike the finishing blow to His final enemy. Even the most wicked of all the kings, the little horn from the fourth kingdom who anticipates the antichrist, will be defeated when Jesus returns. Even in death, there is great hope for the faithful. God reveals to Daniel that “some of those who have insight will fall” (11:35), still
“everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3)
The book ends, “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (12:13). The people of God have hope beyond the grave and therefore have great reason for encouragement in the book of Daniel.
This paper has examined the structure and contents of Daniel, in order to bring forth several main themes and theological truths that make their way through the book. Daniel highlights the way God is sovereign in humbling the proud, delivering his people, and directing history. From these main themes come forth several applications for the church today. The church in the 21st century must be unmoved by the wicked, unmoved by persecution and encouraged.
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 James Hamilton, With the Clouds of Heaven: The book of Daniel in biblical theology, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varity Press, 2014), 50.
 Daniel 2:34, 44, 7:25-26, 8:25, 11:45
 Daniel 9:2
 Daniel 7:13, 9:24-25
 Daniel 11:33-35, 12:1-3, 10-13
 The fact that this statue was set up by the king is repeated six times in the first seven verses. By doing this, Daniel is exposing the statues unimpressive and nonauthoritative status as a false manmade god.
 “Daniel was not some kind of mystical wizard with paranormal powers of perception and communication. His understanding of dreams and visions come from God himself and not from his own skill or learning.” Kenneth Gangel, Daniel, vol 18, Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Bradman & Holman Publishers, 2001), p. 204.
 John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2013), 152.
 Cf. Ps. 18:10, 97:2, 104:3
 See Gen. 1:28, Ex. 13:21-22, 2 Sam. 7:13, Ps. 8:5, 45:1-7, 110.
 The period of time is presented in 7:25 and 12:7 as “time, times, and half a time,” in 8:14 as “2,300 evenings and morning sacrifices” totaling 1,150 days, as half of one seven in 9:27, and as 1,292 days in 12:11. These numbers are best interpreted together to refer to a three-and-a-half-year period of great tribulation where God’s people are in extreme persecution and the abomination of desecration is in power. This understanding is strengthened by John’s use of Daniel’s number in Revelation 11. John sees the nations treading under foot the holy city for forty-two months which is about three and a half years (11:2) and then a two witnesses who prophesy for 1,260 days which is just less than three and a half years (11:3). After this first three and a half years, the beast who rises from the sea will slay these witnesses (11:7-10), but after three-and-a-half days God raises them from the dead. Daniel is using the seven-year period of Daniel 9:27, revealing what will happen during the first three-and-a-half-year period (His witnesses will prophecy), and then revealing more details concerning the great tribulation that takes place in the second and shortened three-and-a-half-year period.