Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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November 2009 • Volume XII, Issue 19


Daniel’s Night Vision (1)

The night vision of Daniel 7 gives a grand sweep of world history from the kingdom of Babylon to the final judgment, a period of 2,500 years and counting. This remarkable vision includes four terrible beasts (or world kingdoms), the ten horns that arise from the fourth beast, the little horn (or Antichrist) which arises from among the ten horns, the final judgment of the Ancient of Days, the eternal dominion of the Son of Man and the everlasting kingdom of the saints.

Daniel 7 is used in the New Testament in especially three ways. First, in the gospels, the title of "Son of Man" (Dan. 7:13) is our Lord’s characteristic term of self-designation. Second, in II Thessalonians 2 and elsewhere, the description of the little horn of Daniel 7 (also spoken of in later chapters of Daniel) is used in the New Testament presentation of Antichrist. Third, the book of Revelation, perhaps, alludes more to Daniel’s night vision than to any other chapter of his prophecy.

Let us summarize the contents of Daniel 7. The chapter divides neatly into two equal parts: verses 1-14 contain the vision and verses 15-28 provide the interpretation of the vision. The first half of the chapter also falls into two parts. In verses 1-8 we see the four beasts, the four horns and the little horn. Verses 9-14 speak of the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man and the final judgment. The interpretation in verses 15-28 treats the four beasts and then, in more detail, the fourth beast and then, in more detail, the little horn. The second half of Daniel 7 repeatedly states that the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom forever and ever (18, 22, 27).

The first beast is a lion—the Babylonian empire (4). The lion was not only the symbol of Babylon in ancient near eastern art; it is also an image of Babylon used by the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Jer. 4:7).

What is the significance of the symbolism of the first beast? The lion is the king of animals. We are told that the lion "had eagle’s wings;" the eagle is the king of the birds (Dan. 7:4). The first kingdom is presented as gold in Daniel 2, the most precious metal. All this bespeaks the great dignity, wealth and glory of Babylon. The plucking off of its wings indicates the end of its powerful conquests. Its being "made [to] stand upon the feet as a man" and having "a man’s heart ... given to it" speaks of a humanising process (7:4). "By Nebuchadnezzar’s receiving a ‘beast’s heart’ [4:16] the Babylonian empire was given a human heart" (E. J. Young, Daniel, p. 144).

The second beast is a bear—the Medo-Persian empire (7:5). The bear is strong and ferocious. Its being raised up on one side fits with its being a dual empire, of both Medes and Persians, as well as its going forward. The three ribs probably refer to especially three kingdoms it conquered: Babylon to the south, Lydia to the north and Egypt to the west. "Arise, devour much flesh" indicates its insatiable appetite for conquest (5).

The third beast is a leopard or panther—the Greek empire of Alexander the Great (6). As a leopard with "four wings," it is very fast and so it is speedy in conquest. The "four heads" are a prophecy that, after Alexander the Great’s death, the empire would be divided into four (6).

The fourth beast is the Roman empire (7). It is so awful that no beast or animal can be likened to it! Thus it is different "from all the beasts that were before it." It is "dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly," having two weapons of destruction. The first is its mouth with "great iron teeth" which "devoured and brake in pieces" (7). Second, with its feet and bronze nails, it "stamped the residue" (7, 19).

Let us consider the four beasts together and collectively. According to Daniel 7:17, the beasts are "four kings" or kingdoms, for a kingdom is ruled by and embodied in its king. Today, we would speak of these kingdoms as empires.

The four metals in the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 represent the same four kingdoms as the beasts in Daniel 7. Daniel 2 clearly identifies the first empire as Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon (37-38). Daniel 8 teaches that the second and third kingdoms are Medo-Persia and Greece (20-22). Rome is the fourth empire because it was in its day that Christ came as the stone "cut out of the mountain without hands" (2:45).

The origin of the beasts is the sea (7:2-3). The sea is restless, sinful humanity, the striving nations (Isa. 17:12-13). The "four winds of the heaven" beating upon the sea bespeak all manner of providences: migrations, wars, inventions, trade, etc. (Dan. 7:2). That the four empires "arise out of the earth" (17) indicates that they are earthy and human, the product of fallen, sinful humanity—kingdoms of man.

But why does Daniel 2 portray the four kingdoms as metals and Daniel 7 present these same empires as beasts? The metals, so to say, give us man’s perspective: these kingdoms are precious and glorious. The beasts, as it were, give us God’s perspective. He sees clearly the sin, idolatry, luxury and oppression of these empires. These kingdoms are dehumanising, the realm of beasts more than of men.

The particular animals chosen in Daniel 7 are rapacious and terrifying beasts which slaughter all in their way. What would you do if you saw one of these four creatures coming toward you? Scream! And run! The wicked world united into a powerful empire, making and enforcing ungodly laws and persecuting the saints, naturally strikes fear into the hearts of God’s people. Power-hungry, sinful men, framing mischief by a law, look to the ungodly like gold, silver, bronze and iron—glory and power (Dan. 2). Yet to the saints, it is a terrifying beast (Dan. 7). But "fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28)! Rev. Stewart

The Place of Children in the Covenant (2)

Question: "Are children in the covenant of grace upon baptism or are only the elect members after conversion? With whom was the covenant of works made? The visible or the invisible church? How does all that work out?"

In the last News, I showed that the elect children of believers are included in the covenant from earliest infancy and, at least in some instances, even before birth, e.g., Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Now the question is: If only the elect children of believers are incorporated into God’s covenant, why are all the children of believers baptized? This is important, for the Baptists make much of the fact that baptism is applied to elect and reprobate alike. In their judgment, this is a very serious mistake.

But the Baptists are very wrong. They do not understand God’s dealings with men. To be frank, I cannot understand the Baptist position in this respect. Surely Baptists generally, including "Reformed" Baptists, believe that the preaching of the gospel is heard by many more people than just the elect. And surely they believe that baptism as a sacrament is connected to the preaching as a sign and seal of the content of the gospel and the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ will be saved. Why, if the preaching is general in the outward call of the gospel and if baptism is attached to the gospel as a sign and seal, is it so hard to believe that also baptism is administered to more than are chosen by God to salvation?

I am aware that many Baptists hold that baptism is not a sacrament in the sense that it, along with the preaching of the gospel, is God’s means to save His people. I am also aware that many (if not most) Baptists hold to a gospel offer as expressing God’s love for all who hear the gospel. But still, in Baptist thinking, the gospel is proclaimed to far more people than are actually saved. It seems to me an anomaly. If, as Calvinistic Baptists insist, salvation is by grace alone, why cannot God save infants as well as adults?

There are two or three points that have to be emphasized in this connection. Just as God wills that the gospel be preached to many more than the elect who are saved through the preaching, so also God wills that the sign and seal of the covenant be given to more than the elect. The gospel is, positively, the public proclamation of God’s great work of salvation in Christ. It is the announcement of the promise of God that He, through Christ and faith in Christ, will surely save all who believe. From a negative viewpoint, the gospel call places all men before the solemn obligation to repent of their sin and believe in Christ as the only hope of salvation. All who hear are confronted with this solemn demand of God, including the threat of eternal punishment for unbelief.

God adds the wonderful promise that He will save not only believers but also their children. This is the way God works. He does not save individuals only; he saves households, families, generations. He does this whether the gospel is preached in the church or on the mission field. Knowing the weakness of our faith, God adds to this gospel preached the sacrament of baptism as a sign and seal of the truth of the promise—a sign and seal administered in the church. It is a sign and seal of God’s covenant, and of God’s covenant established in the line of generations—with believers and their seed.

Some, as you know, make the preaching of the gospel an offer of salvation that expresses God’s desire to save all men. Such an offer is a bestowal of grace on all who hear the gospel so that those hearing it can make a choice by their own will whether or not to accept the gospel. This is extended to baptism. Some Reformed teach that the promise of God’s covenant and "sufficient grace" come to all who are baptized, and that whether or not the covenant is established with any of them depends upon whether they accept and fulfil the conditions of the covenant.

In this view, it is impossible to maintain infant baptism. An infant cannot receive Christ when the gospel is preached, and babies cannot fulfil the conditions of a general promise. And so they remain, according to this view, unconverted until such a time as they exercise their own will, enabled by a general and covenantal grace, to accept God’s conditions. But this is sheer Arminianism and can be nothing else

The heirs of the promise of the gospel are the elect. Because God is the sovereign Lord who alone can and does save, He determines who shall be saved and who shall not. The gospel is the means God uses to save His elect only; and baptism is a sign and seal that, connected to the gospel, assures us that our children are saved as well as we, but only according to sovereign election. And that salvation of our elect children is (ordinarily) begun early in infancy.

The baptism form used in our churches begins the second part with these striking words: "And although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ." Then the promise of God in Genesis 17:7 is quoted.

But now the other side of the picture. The gospel is preached to many more than the elect because God uses the command of the gospel that comes to all to repent of sin and believe in Christ as the means to leave men without excuse. They have heard the gospel; they know what is their solemn obligation. They are told that salvation is sure for those who believe and that judgment comes on those who do not believe. Yet, they refuse and so are justly condemned. On the last day, they will be confronted with their own evil rebellion and will have no criticism of God when they are sent to hell. Thus God reveals His own holiness and hatred of sin in His just punishment of the sinner.

The same is true of baptism. All who are baptized receive the sign and seal of the covenant and so are required to live in faithful service of God. When they scorn their baptism, they scorn the gospel and its promises. They show they care not for the promise signified and sealed in baptism and reject their calling to walk in holiness and obedience to God. I will return to this subject in the next News. Prof. Hanko

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