1 JOHN 3
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2). What a wonderful hope! It is a free gift that arises from knowing him. And the logical conclusion of that relationship is that we strive to purify ourselves to be like him; because he has given us life, our aim is to live his life!
“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him… No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (3:6,9; 5:18). This does not mean that we must show ‘sinless perfection’, but rather that we are not controlled by habitual sin; as Romans 6:18 tell us: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness”. Our habitual behaviour tells us who our ‘Master’ is. The issue of sin is mainly that of control – who runs your life? Now that Christ has sent his Spirit into our hearts, the bias towards rebellion that we previously had (inherited from Adam) is neutralised and we can choose to obey God. John is simply restating that fact. We can sin, we do sin, but we don’t have to sin! John is so convinced of this that he then goes on to say that “Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child…” (v10).
What is our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ? According to John, this is also an acid test of how valid our salvation is. We are in a ‘Cain and Abel’ relationship every single day! The state of our heart dictates the course of our actions – of love or otherwise. Hatred is effectively a type of murder.
Love is not some kind of sloppy feeling that we have to somehow generate within us for each other. It is very down-to-earth indeed, involving material possessions and the basics of human life. Love is a verb – describing actions – rather than a passive noun. In our hearts and consciences, we know deep-down if we are doing the right things.
If we pass these tests – and our hearts know the result – then we can be sure that our relationship with God is genuine and we have the right to ask God for anything we need. What are God’s main commands to us? Just two, when it boils down to it: love God first, by believing in his Son, Jesus Christ; and love our fellow Christians too. If we are keeping these two great commands, then we do live in God and God in us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us confirms that fact.
DANIEL 7, 8 and 9
Fearsome beasts, mutant horns, fighting goats and incomprehensible numbers – if you had dreams like this, you too would turn pale and feel rather troubled, just like Daniel.
We now enter the second half of the book – in which the main focus is predictive prophecy, rather than historical narrative. The first six chapters look back and the last six look forward. Also, most of the last six are written in Hebrew again, since their content relates primarily to God’s people.
Chapter 7 almost interprets itself: out of the great sea (representing the nations of the world), comes a lion with eagle’s wings (the Babylonian empire), a bear (the Medo-Persian alliance), a leopard with four wings and four heads (the Greek empire under Alexander the Great, which was divided after his death into four kingdoms) and a terrifying fierce beast with iron teeth (Rome). Its ten horns possibly correspond to the ten toes in Daniel 2:41-42 and represent ten emperors.
One horn, more imposing than the others will be a kind of antichrist, fiercely oppressing God’s people for half an age. Whether it means the final ‘Antichrist’ – the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians – or a particularly savage Roman emperor, such as Nero or Domitian – or perhaps both fulfilments, is unclear (you didn’t expect to find out today, did you?). If you had lived under Stalin or Hitler, you probably thought that this horn could just as easily have represented one of them too.
The centre of this chapter is the Ancient of Days – God the Father – and the Son of Man – Jesus Christ. Together they are dominant, reign supreme, and are worshiped forever. The Book of Revelation contains many parallel themes to this Book of Daniel, and Rev chapters 4 and 5 seem to mirror the visions here of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. Whoever the beast and the horns were, they were no match for the Lord and his Christ, who conquered them and established their eternal kingdom that will never be destroyed. And we too will share in this, as we share in them. “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High” (7:27).
Chapter 8, featuring the ram with two horns (Medo-Persia) and the flying goat with a large single horn (Greece) is explained very comprehensively already; the horns represent kings or kingdoms. The Four horns that replace the original goat’s one, are likely to represent the four kingdoms that the Greek empire was divided into after Alexander’s death. The little horn that ‘started small’ was probably Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who did more than most despots to rid the world of the Jewish people. He was another ‘type’ of antichrist and he desecrated the temple until it was finally recaptured and restored by Judas Maccabaeus in BC 165.
Finally, in chapter 9, Daniel is reading Jeremiah’s prophecy (25:11-12) and realises that the seventy years prophesied for Judah’s exile are over. Being a great man of God, he refrains from fatalistically doing nothing, and instead he prays, interceding for the people of God and identifying himself with their sins and rebellion over the centuries. He cries out to the Lord for mercy and restoration – for a fulfilment of that ancient prophecy.
At the end of this chapter, there are some strange numerical codes: seven sevens, sixty-two sevens, and one final seven. Many interpreters take the seven sevens to represent 49 years before the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Then the sixty-two seven represents a further jump of 434 years taking us to the first coming of Christ (“After which the Anointed One will be put to death and have nothing”). The final seven is often taken figuratively, to represent a long period of time, part of the gospel age, during which the real Antichrist appears. But there are at least as many theories as there are theologians!