The central theme of the book of Daniel is God’s sovereignty over history and empires, setting up and removing kings as he pleases (Dan. 2:21; 4:34–37). All of the kingdoms of this world will come to an end and will be replaced by the Lord’s kingdom, which will never pass away (Dan. 2:44; 7:27). Though trials and difficulties will continue for the saints up until the end, those who are faithful will be raised to glory, honor, and everlasting life in this final kingdom (Dan. 12:1–3).
- It is possible to live a faithful life in exile, surrounded by pagan influences and propaganda, if one sets one’s mind to serving the Lord wholeheartedly (ch. 1).
- God can vindicate his faithful servants in front of pagan rulers by giving them unusual wisdom and insight into divine mysteries and by miraculously protecting them against the enmity of their pagan neighbors (chs. 2; 3; 6). Nevertheless, divine rescue from martyrdom cannot be assumed (Dan. 3:16–18).
- God humbles the proud and raises up the humble; even the hearts of the greatest kings are under his control (chs. 4; 5).
- This world will be a place of torment and persecution for the saints until the end, getting worse and worse rather than better and better (chs. 2; 7). Yet the Lord will judge the kingdoms of this world and bring them to an end, replacing them with his own kingdom that will never end. This kingdom will be ruled by “one like a son of man” who comes “with the clouds,” a figure who combines the distinctive traits of humanity and divinity (Dan. 7:13).
- God is sovereign over the course of history, even over those who rebel against him and seek to destroy his people (ch. 8).
- The exile was not the end of Israel’s history of rebellion and judgment. In the future, Israel would again transgress against the Lord, and Jerusalem would be handed over into the power of her enemies, who would trample her temple and do abominable things (chs. 8; 9; 12). Eventually, though, the anointed ruler would come to deliver her from her sins (Dan. 9:24–27).
- These earthly events are mirrors of a great cosmic conflict in the heavenly realms between angelic forces of good and evil (ch. 10). Prayer is a significant weapon in that conflict (Dan. 9:23).
- God rules over all of these conflicts and events, he limits their scope, and he has a precise timetable for the trials of the saints to be completed, when he will finally intervene to cleanse and deliver his people (ch. 12).
- In the meantime, the saints must be patient and faithful amid a hostile world, looking to the Lord alone for deliverance (Dan. 11:33–35).
The book of Daniel is made up of two halves, each of which has its own genre. The first half (chs. 1–6) contains narratives from the lives of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These court stories exemplify faithful living in exile and provide models of how God’s people should live as strangers and exiles in a world that is not their home (Heb. 13:14). They show Daniel and his friends serving their pagan masters loyally, as Jeremiah 29:5–7 had commanded, yet without compromising their greater loyalty to God. The second half of the book (Daniel 7–12) contains apocalyptic visions, which are designed to reassure God’s people that in spite of their present persecution and suffering, God is in control and will ultimately be victorious. The Lord is aware of the suffering of his people and will bring their trials to an end on the day when he establishes his kingdom. The final victory belongs to the Ancient of Days and his representative, the Son of Man (ch. 7). When they triumph, the powers and authorities of this world will be defeated and judged, while the saints will be vindicated and rewarded (Dan. 7:26–27).
The two parts of the book are linked by a variety of literary features:
- The dates attached to the visions locate them during the same period of history as the narratives of chapters 1–6;
- The book begins in Hebrew, switches into Aramaic from 2:4–7:28, and then returns to Hebrew for chapters 8–12;
- The vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 mirrors in a number of ways Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2; and
- The message of the visions of chapters 7–12 reinforces the message of the narratives in chapters 1–6: God’s ultimate victory over the powers and authorities of this present evil age is sure, so the wise will be faithful to the Lord in the meantime, whatever pressures are brought to bear upon them.
History of Salvation Summary
The people of Judah could have interpreted their exile to Babylon as the end of their special relationship with God. But not only does the book of Daniel show them that it is possible to be faithful to God even away from the Promised Land, it also shows them that God has not abandoned his plan for the whole world: he controls all of history, even the most dire conflicts, to bring his Messiah’s rule to all nations.
Taken from the ESV® Study Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information on how to cite this material, see permissions information here.