In Part 2, we introduced the first two verses of Daniel. They have important implications for interpreting the book as a whole. They establish the big picture, not only for Daniel but all of biblical theology.
You don’t start a jigsaw puzzle by carefully analyzing each piece. You first examine the box top, getting familiar with the colors and sense of the landscape or picture. Then when you do look at the individual pieces you know where they likely fit in the picture. In other words, the big picture governs our interpretation of the individual pieces rather than the other way around. If you start with the pieces you will strain a relationship between them. In the end, you’ve probably envisioned a picture much different than the box top.
For example, assume we’ve opened a new jigsaw puzzle, dumped all the pieces out and set the box aside. We pick up one piece that looks like part of a lion paw. We pick up another piece that looks like part of an airplane wing. If we haven’t prioritized the picture on the box then we might conclude this puzzle is a picture of a lion flying an airplane. Then we try to force every other piece into the picture when our conclusion looks nothing like the box top.
The temptation with Daniel (or especially Revelation) is to start with the individual pieces. What is the small horn coming out of the large horn in 8.9? Who is the gold-belted shiny man in 10.5? What are the 2,300 evenings of 8.14?
If we’re not careful we start making declarations about this piece or that piece and then force them together to make the big picture. And that picture may very well be far different than the box Daniel came in! Rightly interpreting Daniel demands we keep the big picture in view, and then fitting the individual pieces into that big picture.
What is Daniel about? It’s about the end of the world! Geerhardus Vos wrote, “Christianity in its very origin bears an eschatological character.” But Daniel’s “end of the world” is not what we often make it out to be. In our sensationally, visually-addicted, made-for-TV-movie culture the end of the world is about cataclysmic clashes between nations. Giant robots and aliens funded by ruthless dictators. Earth-destroying meteors and global biological weaponry. Superpowers and superheroes.
Scripture makes the end of the world much simpler than parsing headlines and over-interpreting Middle East gerrymandering. There is one clash going on in the world. And it’s the same clash that’s been going on since the Fall of Man in Eden. Every event in history is rooted in this clash. Every rise and fall of nations and cities is part of this clash. Every war and battle happening now is part of this one clash. And if Christ tarries another 2,000 years this clash will still be going on.
The newspapers do not report it this way. News anchors do not report it this way. Historians do not report it this way. But the church must and does.
What is this clash? Daniel 1.1-2: Babylon vs. Jerusalem. The City of Man vs. the City of God. Before you assume too much, I don’t mean actual pieces of Palestinian real estate. This battle is not summed up in Hamas vs. Israel. It is far bigger with far more at stake than a patch of land in the Middle East.
Let’s flesh that out with some biblical theology by teasing out some themes about Babylon and Jerusalem.
Babylon, the City of Man
Babylon was what is modern-day Iraq; therefore, many consider the events surrounding Iraq to be the onset of the end of the world. Militant, Islamic extremism is the “end of the world” against the “Christian” West.
Because of the Flood we cannot be absolutely sure about where places were originally situated on the globe. But there is a reasonable inference that an important place preceded what would become Babylon. According to Gen 2.10-14, the Garden of Eden could have been in that general area. And it was in the Paradise of God where in Adam humanity rebelled against God and subjected the world to futility, sin, misery and death.
So maybe it’s not those pesky Babylonian rulers or Iraqi dictators that are the root of the world’s problem. Maybe it all started when we as collective humanity shook our fist at God, shirking off his kind and loving rule for self-rule. Perhaps the end started when we abandoned the city of God to construct our own city of Man. We turned the perfect place into a miserable place of our own liking.
Babylon (or Persia or Iraq) didn’t create all things sinful. The Fall of Man created Babylon.
Consider a few other items of note:
Do you know the significance of Shinar (Dan 1.2)? Shinar is where the “liberated” people of the earth built the Tower of Babel (Gen 11.2). It’s where all the earth’s people said, “Let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name” (Gen 11.4). It was the City of Man, where man attempted to exalt himself as God-like. So here is Nebuchadnezzar raiding the City of God to build his city. We come full circle to this in Daniel 4.
In 1 Peter 5.13, Peter sent greetings from folks in Babylon. Now, by the time Peter wrote that Babylon was insignificant. There is no tradition having Peter visiting the Mesopotamian city. He meant Rome, which was the seat of world power and opposition to the Church. Rome was simply Babylon 2.0.
In Revelation 18, John saw and rejoiced in the fall of Babylon, which he called the great and strong city (v10). But Babylon wasn’t great and strong when John wrote Revelation. Therefore, like Peter did, he meant Rome which itself was the current iteration of the City of Man erected when Adam fell and being built until the end.
Babylon becomes the inclusive term to describe the world of hostility toward God; the hometown of everyone throughout all of history who resists God’s promises of salvation in Jesus. You may be a good kid from Sheboygan, an upstanding citizen of Hong Kong, a sterling favorite son of London. But if you are at odds with God by rejecting Jesus Christ then you are ultimately a citizen of Babylon.
Jerusalem, the City of God
I tread on thin ice with many when I suggest Jerusalem is not the center of the world. Like Babylon, it represents something far more than a patch of land in Palestine. With Christ’s first coming, Jerusalem becomes far more a theological term than a geographical one.
Like all other old covenant types, copies and shadows, Jerusalem anticipated the rule of God over all his people in a place where God’s glory fills the universe. We know it played a central role in old covenant Israel. It was Zion, the city of David, the city of God where God dwelt and from which his glory radiated to the nations (or at least should have).
But with the coming of Christ and his enthronement in heaven, the NT (and Jewish!) authors developed a far different view of their beloved city. Paul, a Jew of Jews by his own admission, referred to the “present Jerusalem” (the earthly real estate) as enslaved but the “Jerusalem above” as free (Gal 4.25-26). Hebrews 12.22 speaks of new covenant worship of God as coming to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Clearly, the city of Zion is not earthly Jerusalem but the heavenly fulfillment. In Revelation 21, John saw “the holy city, the new Jerusalem” not rising out of some rubble in the Middle East, but “coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21.2). The NT authors never speak of a restored Jerusalem, but “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one . . . for God has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11.16). In the new covenant, Jerusalem comes to represent the people of God: redeemed, refined, protected, secured, exalted and made beautiful by Jesus for eternity.
The city Jesus has built (the Church) will overcome, outlast and outshine the city Adam has been building since the Fall. That is what’s going on behind the headlines. That’s the v2 to this world’s v1. “The coming world was not to be the product of natural development but of a Divine interposition arresting the process of history” (Vos).
Despite what the headlines might say we know we’re in a far greater clash than a war against terrorism or Iranian nuclear proliferation. But here’s the great news: God stands behind this war and has actually won it in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, the end of the world has already happened. God overcame the City of Man when Jesus walked out of his grave, breaking the chains that kept its citizens hostage.
Paul described his generation and therefore every generation since as one “upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10.11). Where is this world headed? It’s headed where it’s already been. The ultimate vindication of God in the exaltation of Jesus Christ. He has judged all sin in and by Jesus. He has raised all believers in Christ. Now Jesus sits enthroned with all authority in heaven and on earth. Now, all of history since is the mopping up of Babylon while Jesus gathers every one for whom he died into the City of God.
A nuclear Iran is not the end of the world. A Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is not the end of the world. Hamas controlling Israel is not the end of the world. Our problem is not what is coming out of Iraq now, but what came out of it long before – humanity’s rebellion against God.
The end of the world is not Iran vs. the Jews. The end of the world is God’s judgment against all sin and redemption of all those in Christ to his eternal glory. For the Christian, it’s already happened and we only wait its consummation.
As Christ has been raised and rightly enthroned, we live in the end of the world already. We need not fear any headline because the ultimate headline has already been written: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22.12-13). And to that every Christian says, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22.20). Come into your City that you founded with your blood and conquer everything and everyone that went wrong in Eden.”
Friend, God has granted a season of grace and mercy for your repentance. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ then you are a citizen of Babylon (the city created by rebels in Eden). And the walls of that city were breached at Christ’s resurrection. It is being destroyed. Bunyan called it the City of Destruction. There is no hope for you in this city. There is no life for you in this city. Repent from your sinful attempt at self-rule, flee Babylon to make your home with Christ by faith.
Daniel lived between promise and fulfillment. God promised to bring them back home, but not until they’d lived in Babylon for 70 years. And like Daniel we must live in Babylon by faith for now until God completes his promise to bring us home. Daniel will teach us how citizens of the City of God must live in the City of Man. We are pilgrims indeed, who have left the City of Destruction and are making our way to the Celestial City, where the King is all in all. Amen.