Pop Goes the Easel

28 October 2018
{Written on an easel positioned near the speaker is a poster board with (1) a black ” Zig”, (2) a blue “Zag” and (3) a red Pop.}

This reflection has three components: the first is a long Old Testament “zig.” The second is a short New Testament “zag” and the third is a concluding “pop.” I hope you will find the “zig” and “zag” interesting. If you find the “pop” offensive, we can certainly talk further since I live here, too.
Let’s zig over to the Book of Daniel, chapter 7.
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand upon two feet like a man; and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, “Arise, devour much flesh.” After this I looked, and lo, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back; and the beast had four heads. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had iron teeth; it devoured, and broke in pieces, and stamped with its feet. It had ten horns and behold there came up among the ten horns a little horn in which were eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking great things.
These words are, and have been for many centuries, Holy Scripture, which means that every Christian needs to understand their message, including the hanging-fire issue of the date of their composition. Traditionally, the Book of Daniel was assumed to be written during the Babylonian Captivity of the 6th century BC. However, the modern scholarly consensus accepts the Maccabean period four centuries later. Curiously, only a handful of scholars are sufficiently learned to have a justifiable opinion on this topic. The rest of us who are not learned enough will have to 1) ignore the issue or 2) accept the scholarly consensus or 3) find, and choose, an expert who supports our convictional predilection.
You see the issue, of course. If the earlier date is correct, the Book of Daniel is an historical prediction, a prophesy of the future which came true. That is the traditional view. If the later date is correct, as the modern scholarly consensus holds, then the Book of Daniel describes, and interprets, events that had already occurred.
On the date of the Book of Daniel today: Divided We Stand.
Backing away from the fire and more calmly considered, we should be able to agree that the Christian Bible contains two apocalypses. The first, and most famous, is the Apocalypse of John–the New Testament book of Revelation. The second is the Book of Daniel, which contains the night visions you have just heard.
In any case, interpreting an apocalypse presents special difficulties that most ordinary Christians are unwilling, and perhaps acceptably unwilling, to engage. Additionally, many pastors who dip into the apocalypses just as quickly dip right back out. For example, I cannot imagine that an accurate identification of the four beasts of Daniel seven is a high priority for most American Christians. Nevertheless, for the record and for what it is worth, the best theory suggests the beasts refer to the empires of Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Graeco-Macedonia. For the visual learners among us something like these beasts can be seen in the Assyrian room six of the British Museum and on the magnificent Ishtar Gate of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
So much for the Old Testament zig. We resume the reading at the zag.
As I looked thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him.
Then I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Like a lion, like a bear, like a leopard. There are seven “likes” in this passage which sounds like the speech of a contemporary teenager. Here they are not verbal tics, but already mentioned important historical similes.
You have probably noticed that historically we Christians can read the ‘zig” part of this text with our Jewish friends. You have certainly noticed that theologically we cannot read the “zag” part with our Jewish friends because Christians understand the “Ancient of Days” in Trinitarian terms and the “Son of Man” in Christological terms.
You will be inordinately relieved to learn that I do not propose to discuss these central mysteries of the Christian confession in the few minutes remaining. Instead, I hope to offer a POP conclusion by way of challenge.
Let us pause to mark the POP. I ask you to imagine a monkey chasing a mulberry bush. Pop goes the easel. {At this juncture the speaker took in hand a bunch of explosive “Pop Pop Snappers” (available at toy stores) which being thrown at the easel demonstrated, “Pop goes the easel”.}
The popping point is this. Your Christian faith is based in history but it is determined by encounter. Only in part do Christians see the Messiah through historical insight. More crucial, the eyes of faith encounter the risen Christ by the mighty and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit and recognize his glory through his self-description.
The seventh chapter of Daniel refers to history, of course, but even more importantly it presents Christological reality demanding personal commitment. Obviously, both Scripture and Faith are nonnegotiable components of every Christian life. Therefore, most likely every Christian here present already knows that for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the phrase “Son of Man’ was his favorite self-description. The words “The Son of Man” appear 81 times in the canonical gospels and only in the sayings of Jesus Himself. He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:35). “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost” (Mt. 18:11). And most clearly reflecting Daniel 7: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mt. 24: 30).
“God the Son” is a special Christological affirmation, but the phrase “Son of God”, while applied in the New Testament to Adam, Jesus, and the followers of Jesus, is also applied to (1) angels, (2) pious men, and (3) Kings of Israel. Thus, quite contrary to ordinary English usage, “Son of God” is a human title and “Son of Man” is a divine title
Once more let us sharpen two points. First, God’s chosen people who preserved and cherished the Book of Daniel historically do NOT understand the Son of Man to refer to Jesus of Nazareth. Second, Christians, who do so claim, should understand that their identification of the Son of Man is not primarily based on superior historical acumen but on personal theological encounter. Christians recognize that Jesus of Nazareth taught his disciples that the phrase applies to Him. To this day that application is debated historically pro and con between the Old and New Israel, but NOT theologically for us. For Christians the defining Messianic reality is that Jesus reached back into the history of his original people to bring this phrase forward to describe himself. In other words, Christian faith, however connected, is not anchored in historical understanding but in personal encounter with Him in whom, we live, and move, and are (Acts 17:28).
The question has always been, “Who do people say I am? And the correct answer has always been, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16: 13). Christians do not really see the seventh chapter of Daniel in the early light of the Babylonian Exile or the middle darkness of the Maccabean Rebellion. Rather, we see by the dawn of Easter Day.
In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn. 1:4-5) Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8: 12).

One thought on “Pop Goes the Easel”

  1. “Your Christian faith is based in history but it is determined by encounter.” A good insight. I have been reading Joseph Small’s book “Flawed Church, Faithful God.” He has an interesting chapter that I’ve been grappling with on how Christians relate to (and depend upon) the Jewish faith.


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