Fantastic beasts and a fantastic future
The first half of the Book of Daniel contains the action; the second recounts some of the dreams and visions Daniel has had over his lifetime. These dreams and visions are apocalytic. Apocalyptic literature is a genre of religious writing centred on visions of the end of time. Most often describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world. Well, the world as we know it, anyway.
Daniel has a vision of four fantastic beasts emerging out of a churning sea. The first is a lion with wings that walks like a human and has a human heart. The second is a bear with three ribs in its mouth. The third a leopard with wings and four heads and the fourth a nightmare creature with iron teeth and ten horns. These represent the ruling kingdoms on the earth at that time and in the future – Babylon, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks and Rome.
The good news is that this is not the end of the vision. Or of the story.
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.” Daniel 7:9
God takes his throne. God strips the beasts of their authority and slays the fourth, most powerful and vicious beast.
And there is more.
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 nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14
For Christians, this is Jesus. Jesus later describes himself as the son of man, just as Daniel describes him.
The devouring beasts are never the end of the story. Whatever reality Daniel and his fellow Jews are living in in exile, God will overcome and God will take his rightful place. This is the hope that keeps Daniel going, that makes his faith so resilient. Not a flimsy hope of what may be, but a sure, strong hope of what is to come.
‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’ Daniel 7:17-18
For Daniel, his vision for the future shaped how he lived his today. His current exile is part of a far bigger picture, a picture in which God has the final victory. The reality of his people may have shrunk to become a powerless people in exile, but his sure hope of God’s promised future expands his vision.
The same is true for us. The way we see the future will affect our present. Our faith is about so much more than the here and now. It’s about God’s bigger picture, this trajectory towards God’s victory and reign over the whole earth. Whatever is going on now in our lives is just for a season. It will not last forever. It is Jesus’ kingdom that will never be destroyed. Jesus’ everlasting kingdom that we pray about in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven’. In this way, the future kingdom breaks through into the here and now, giving us glimpses of what is to come – and we can look for it, recognise it for what it is, celebrate it, help others to see it and know it.
The future, even though it hasn’t happened yet, can impact the present in a very real way.
I know that God has set in motion the forces of liberation; that he has released resurrection into the created order, to run with its muddy boots allover death’s plans for us; that he will bring to fruition every good work of redemption that he has begun. So I am able to live in patience and hope, accepting the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom as fully as I accept the ‘now’. Page 185, Stretch
A bit of a tangent, I know, but I went to see ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ last night. It’s the story on one level of a ‘nomag’ factory worker (with no magic) with dreams of becoming a baker being drawn into the magical world of wizards and their fantastic beasts. When his memory is obliterated at the end of the film, he gets to become a baker and the breads and cakes he designs are all based on the magical creatures he saw. When asked where he gets his inspiration from, Kowalski looks puzzled and has to admit he doesn’t know. What he has seen and experienced has affected him on a deeper level, given him a glimpse of something far beyond his present reality and affected his present reality without him understanding how or why.
What we know of our future with God, even if we don’t fully understand it, affects our here and now. We can live out our exile now, whatever that looks like for us, knowing that our future is secure in Christ.