The Ancient of Days Takes His Seat
A sermon based on Daniel 7:9-10
Sunday, November 9, 2014 – Last Judgment A
Last year was the first time I that I was called in to be a potential juror. And while I was sitting in one of those 12 seats (before I got dismissed), I'll admit that I thought it was a little nerve racking.
We all stood as the honorable judge came into the room. And only after he had been seated could we all sit down. That was significant. He was the one in charge. He would oversee the trial and help determine the results of the case.
But even though he had the title "Judge," it was really the jurors who would judge the case. And maybe that's why I was so nervous. Here a man's fate would be determined. The accused man could be sentenced to many years in prison—obviously a life-altering fate—or he could be set free. And his fate rested in the decision of those 12 jurors who would judge his case.
If I felt nervous, I could only imagine how the man on trial must have felt.
And I can only imagine how Daniel must have felt, when he saw The Judge. The prophet Daniel, the same guy who spent the night in the lion's den, was now an old man and saw some cool visions—of a winged lion and a hungry bear, of a four-headed leopard and a ten-horned, iron-toothed monster. But then, after all these beasts, he saw… God. He saw The Judge, the Ancient of Days, sitting down to judge the world on its last day. Here's how he described for us what he saw in Daniel 7:9-10…
9 "As I looked, "thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
I. The Judge
"That's… awesome!!!" Ever think about that word, awesome? We overuse it and so it's pretty much lost its meaning. But it literally means that something inspires awe in those who behold it.
I think of scenes in the movies. Disney does it well. Ursula, the evil sea witch in the Little Mermaid grows to a massive size to fill scene and fill the screen. Jafar, the evil wizard out to get Aladdin, fills the desert with his magnificent size. Universal does it well too. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park bare their teeth and roar and the theater shakes with the bass. Godzilla rises up out of the ocean and breaths fire in an awesome display of power.
When something is truly awesome, it is a wonderful but terrible vision. And what Daniel saw was truly awesome. Though it was a dream instead of a movie, he saw an impressive display of power, meant to inspire fear and awe. In fact, he admitted, "I… was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me… I… was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale." (Daniel 7:15,28)
What had him so troubled? Well the monsters he saw to be sure, but even more was the finale of the dream where he saw God. He saw a truly impressive display of his power and might that inspired fear and awe. It was truly awesome.
First, he saw "the Ancient of Days." Now this title, only used in this chapter of the Bible, is in contrast to all the other rulers and kingdoms of the world. Unlike Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome, those nations depicted as monsters in Daniel's vision, God's rule never changes hands. He is eternal and changeless and always in control.
But look at how this judge appeared! "His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool." His white clothes and hair picture his purity, with no sin or mistakes of his own. This was not a judge that understood "boys will be boys" or who would give time off for good behavior. He is perfectly righteous and demands the same. He is eternal and changeless. And what he demands has never changed: Be holy because God is holy. (cf. Leviticus 11:44) Be perfect as God is perfect. (cf. Matthew 5:48)
"His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him." The fire on his throne and the river of lava flowing at his feet are, of course, a picture of judgment and destruction. Like the fires of Mount Doom that alone could destroy Frodo's ring of power, this fire can destroy anything or anyone.
And the wheels on his throne show that his judgment isn't restricted to one location like the judge in Kenai, but he's on the move. His judgment goes everywhere. He judges all people. And some have suggested the wheels suggest a war chariot with the subtle message, "He's coming to get you!"
And Daniel saw that, "The court was seated, and the books were opened." The Judge opened the books that had recorded in them the evidence against the accused. John wrote in Revelation, "The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." (Revelation 20:12)
What an awesome vision! What an awesome judge! He truly does inspire awe in this wonderful, terrible vision! Especially when we consider our sin. I have not been perfect. I have not always been loving. I have not lived each day ready for that Day when I am called before the Ancient of Days. So this vision not only impresses, but frightens the sinner who has rebelled against the holy Judge. It terrifies the guilty conscience. And it should. Jesus told us to "be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)
And this wonderful, terrible, awesome vision leads us to cry out, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" It makes us plead before the Judge, "Please, don't treat us as our sins deserve! Don't repay us according to our iniquities! Don't cast us away from your presence into the hell we deserve!" For we know that one day soon we will stand before the Judge and "The court [will be] seated, and the books [will be] opened."
II. The Judgment
"Do you fear… death? Do you fear that dark abyss? All your deeds laid bare, all your sins punished?" That's what Davy Jones (of "Davy Jones' Locker") asked the Pirates of the Caribbean who were looking to postpone that Day of Judgment.
And yet, even though the picture of this righteous judge leads us to plead for God's mercy, when asked, "Do you fear… death? Do you fear that dark abyss? All your deeds laid bare, all your sins punished?" you and I can honestly say, "No. I don't fear that Day of Judgment." In fact, we look forward to it.
Why? How?! How can we look forward to being judged when we know we have sinned? Because we know the judgment that the Judge will give. We know his verdict. We know that he will judge us not guilty. We know because of another book on which the Judge will base his decisions. Verse 10 says the books (plural) were opened.
One book has recorded all the deeds of all mankind. But there's another book. John wrote in Revelation 20(:12), "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life." (cf. also Exodus 32:32 and Psalm 69:28).
What is the book of life? It's not an ancient Egyptian book bound in gold with magical incantations that deliver from death. It's God's record of those who are spared from his wrath on the Day of Judgment.
How could these two books exist side by side? One that records our sinful deeds and one that records our salvation? Well, we only need to look a few verses ahead in Daniel's vision to see the answer.
Verses 13 and 14 of Daniel 7 read: "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."
And, of course, you recognize who this one, like a son of man, is. Jesus often used the title, Son of Man, as a way to describe himself. The Pharisees didn't like that he called himself the Son of God, so in a sense he said, "Fine. I'll call myself the Son of Man," in a no-so-veiled reference to Daniel 7.
In fact, at his trial before Caiaphas…
The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:63-64)
And you know what happened to the Son of Man after that trial. He took a look into the books of the Judge and he took the credit for every sin, for every rebellion, for every mistake that we have ever made. And he faced, "the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) And he endured, "that dark abyss… [where] all [our] deeds [were] laid bare, all [our] sins [were] punished."
And then he wrote in those books his perfect score under our name. It's like two students taking a test. The one fails miserably. The other aces it. But then the second student takes both tests, erases both names and writes the opposite in.
So he who aced life got damnation on the cross. And we who have failed miserably and deserve damnation at the final judgment get heaven instead.
That is the final judgment of the Judge. So we're not afraid of that day when we stand before the Judge and, "the court [will be] seated, and the books [will be] opened." We know it will be our day of deliverance. And we know it will be… awesome!
And that's really what God meant in giving that vision to Daniel: He meant it to be a message of comfort and hope since that Day will be a day of victory for God and for his people. A day when, "the beast [is] slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire." That's Daniel 7:11. It will be a day when every authority that sets itself up against God, when every monster, is finally destroyed. How awesome that day will be!
And so we rejoice… right now! Even as politicians engage in debates, as elections rage on, as governors and senators and presidents come and go, as earthly kingdoms rise and fall, we rejoice, because we know that God—the Ancient of Days—is still in control and will have the final word. We rejoice, even as evil spreads and miscarriages of justice take place every day, because we know that justice will finally come! We rejoice, leaving our works and our efforts behind, knowing that they will do us no good in the Final Judgment, but trusting entirely in the Son of Man who gives us a clean record before the Judge of all mankind.
And as we look forward to that awesome Day when we stand before the judgment seat of God, we serve him now, in a constant state of readiness, listening to his Word, growing in our faith, trusting in his promises that keep us ready to meet the Judge. For we know that our names are written in the Book of Life. We're ready to meet the Ancient of Days. And we're eager to live for him now until that Day! In the name of Jesus, the Son of Man, we have this confidence. We have this joy. Amen!