Thursday, October 31, 2013

Recognition (part 1 of 2)

Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. – Genesis 42:8  (NET)

Delving into the life of Joseph will almost invariably produce a comparative analogy to the life of Jesus, and with what is transpiring in association with this particular verse, the statement proves to be true.  The reader of Scripture can never be allowed to forget that the way in which Israel thought about itself, the way the disciples would have heard and understood the words and ministry of Jesus, and even the way that Jesus thought of and presented Himself to Israel, would all have been couched in the regularly told history of Israel, as grounded in the Abrahamic covenant and in the history of the Egyptian exodus. 

To that end, not only was every Passover an explicit reminder of their exodus experience and that their God was the God of exodus, but the long subjugation to various empires---the latest of which was Rome---was productive of a general (though not exclusive) mindset of a people in an exile from the full manifestation of their God’s promises to them.  Thus, among many, there was a consistent longing for a new exodus led by a new deliverer. 

Owing to that the groaning desire of freedom from Rome’s yoke (not unlike the groaning of Israel in Egypt, as recorded in Exodus), one can be assured that thoughts of the Creator God’s miraculous deliverance of His people from the power of Egypt would never have been too far from their minds.  Quite naturally, the story of Joseph, which was so closely connected to the story of Israel’s arrival in Egypt (which was itself part of the God of Israel’s confirmation of His promise to Abraham), and which was itself a poignant story of vindication and exaltation after an ordeal of wrongful suffering, would have been a popular story in Israel. 

Because it offers a tight analogy to that which was experienced by Jesus (suffering, vindication, exaltation), stories of Joseph, especially following the Resurrection of Jesus, would have been fertile ground for gaining an even greater understanding of Jesus and His mission, of the covenant God that raised Him from the dead, and of the redeeming, rescuing movement of that same God throughout all of history---with comprehension of that work, enacted primarily through His covenant people, given shape by the Abrahamic covenant and its associated pointers and promises that are rehearsed and recorded throughout the written history (including the poets and prophets) of Israel.  

Now, some misguided souls might be tempted to look at these analogies from a resurrection-denying perspective and draw the conclusion that followers of Jesus, subsequent to His unexpected and defeating death and seeking to keep alive the cult that had grown around Him, simply searched the Scriptures so as to pull together bits and pieces by which it was possible to build a better foundation for their ongoing worship and subsequent proclamation of Him as the embodiment of Israel’s God. 

However, reading the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of God’s redemptive plan that was commenced through Abraham, carried on through Israel, climaxed in Jesus, and continually out-worked through the Church of Christ, becomes an exercise in learning about the Creator God and His purposes, so that one might gain a greater measure of trust through what is somehow understood to be the out-spiring work of the Holy Spirit. 

Thus, believers come to be able to identify the places that connect them to the culminating event in the history of the entire cosmos, which was the Christ-event.  This operation is undertaken, presumably, so that those that confess Jesus as Lord and who seek to live according to that proclamation, might be able to more effectively operate by the mysterious power of the Resurrection, that they might be the means by which the Creator God applies that transformative power, by the Spirit, through that Gospel proclamation of Jesus as Lord. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stephen's Trial & Death (part 3 of 3)

It is now appropriate to return to the question of why this intense response from the respective councils?  What had Jesus and Stephen said?  To what had they alluded?  The search for the answer leads to the book of Daniel, which was an important, highly regarded, and determinative work of prophecy (highly charged politics and polemics, in the Jewish prophetic tradition) in the time of Jesus and Stephen.  Specifically, one would look to the seventh chapter of Daniel, in which Daniel himself is said to have recorded a vision of four beasts that came up from the sea. 

The fourth of these beasts was said to be “dreadful, terrible, and very strong.  It had two large rows of iron teeth.  It devoured and crushed, and anything that was left it trampled with its feet” (7:7b).  This beast was also said to have had ten horns.  Daniel says “As I was contemplating the horns, another horn---a small one---came up between them, and three of the former horns were torn out by the roots to make room for it.  This horn had eyes resembling human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogant things” (7:8).  A bit later on, Daniel reports that the “horn began to wage war against the holy ones and was defeating them” (7:21b).  This was reported to have gone on until “the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High” (7:22a). 

Prior to this, Daniel reports “I was watching until the beast”---this being the one with the horn that was waging war against the holy ones of the Most High---“was killed and its body destroyed and thrown into the flaming fire” (7:11b).  After this occurred, “with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching.  He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him.  To Him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty.  All peoples, nations, and languages were serving Him.  His authority is eternal and will not pass away.  His kingdom will not be destroyed” (7:13b-14). 

Now what does this have to do with Stephen and Jesus?  Well, when Jesus stands and says to the high priest that he (the high priest) will see “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven,” He is making a well-understood reference to Daniel seven.  He also seems to be referring to Himself as the Son of Man.  So unless He is referring to the high priest as the Ancient of Days, the only entity to whom Jesus can be making reference when He tells the high priest that he will see these things, is the beast and the horn that is waging war against the saints of God. 

What is found here is Jesus equating the high priest with the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision.  This would appear to be made abundantly clear by the high priest’s now more than understandable response, in which he tears his clothes, pronounces Jesus to be a blasphemer, and sentences Him to death.  This is quite understandable if one realizes what Jesus is saying to and about the high priest. 

Stephen stands before the exact same high priest and speaks of Jesus standing at the right hand of Israel’s God.  With this, Stephen makes a clear allusion to Daniel seven (and to Jesus’ own words that would be well-remembered by the high priest), referring to Jesus as the Son of Man who is made to stand before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom after the beast is put down.  So, like Jesus, Stephen also declares the high priest (perhaps even extending this now to the whole council?) to be the beast and the horn that is waging war against the saints of the Creator God.  The fact that this is precisely what he is doing, as he follows in the footsteps of his Lord, is made clear by the already mentioned response.  In essence, they labeled him as a blasphemer, and like the beasts that he had proclaimed them to be, rushed at him with one intent, having pronounced the verdict of “guilty” and “deserves death.” 

It is a story that is poignant, dramatic, and telling, but the similarities with Jesus do not end with the words that condemn the high priest, with the verdict of blasphemy, or with the carrying out of the sentence of death.  Stephen has imitated his Lord to this point, and he is going to do the same to the end.  Turning to the Gospel of Luke (who was also the author of Acts), one there finds that Jesus, at the cross, said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (23:34a).  Later, Jesus adds “into Your hands I commit My spirit” (23:46b). 

Though the words of forgiveness are omitted in many important, ancient manuscripts of Luke, if the similarities between the immediate events that led to the respective martyrdoms of both Jesus and Stephen are taken into consideration which were the verdicts of blasphemy rendered by the council at the insistence of the high priest, then it is also found that the record of such words being spoken by Jesus carry with them the ring of truth, as Stephen goes to his own death saying “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”  To that he adds, in what must have been a certain and thoughtful imitation of the tradition being passed on by the Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (7:60b)     

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stephen's Trial & Death (part 2)

Sure there was a pernicious and damaging rumor making its rounds that Jesus had been raised from the dead; and though this was of some concern to the council in Jerusalem (which is demonstrated by the fact that Stephen was brought before the council in the first place), the leaders of the people remained quite confident that Jesus had not been the “Righteous One” of whom Stephen spoke.  This position was reinforced by the fact that He had been crucified by the Romans (rather than overthrowing and driving out the Romans), with things in Israel continuing as they had for quite some time. 

Now, one such as Stephen could have certainly argued that Jesus did not have the opportunity to drive out the Romans (though this had clearly not been His goal) because He had been sent to His death by the very men who would now claim that He could not have been the messiah because He was crucified by the Romans, dying at their hands rather than driving them out.  Such an argument, however, would be viewed as somewhat beside the point of the proceedings, and rejected out of hand. 

Had this Jesus truly been the messiah---the long awaited Righteous One and embodiment of Israel’s God---He would not have allowed Himself to be crucified, so the fact that He was, regardless of who instigated the proceedings that resulted in crucifixion, clearly demonstrated that He was not the messiah.  Even if He had been raised from the dead, the thinking would go, His death by crucifixion and the fact that Rome was still in power over the land and people of the Creator God would trump that fact, and thus readily continuing to prove that He was, in fact, not the messiah.  Yes, such thinking could very well have been much self-delusion, as an ongoing attempt to justify themselves and excuse their having brought about the death of the man that might very well have been the messiah, but at this point, there could be no back-tracking. 

Yet with all that under consideration, the anger was there and it was real and it resulted in Stephen’s death.  Indeed, this was not the first time that somebody had spoken to the council in such a way, and it was not the first time that such speaking had resulted in the speaker’s death, as shall be seen.    

Who was that other person to have spoken words to the council that resulted in death?  Well it was Jesus, of course.  In the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus is placed before the Sanhedrin and there was an attempt “to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put Him to death” (26:59b), Jesus was instructed to “under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (26:63b).  Jesus replied by saying, “You have said it yourself.  But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (26:64).  When pressed by the council, Stephen, echoing the words of Jesus, said “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56) 

Upon hearing the words from Jesus, it is said that “the high priest tore his clothes and declared, ‘He has blasphemed!... Now you have heard His blasphemy!  What is your verdict?’” (26:65a,c,66a)  The council answered with “He is guilty and deserves death” (26:66b).  Mark and Luke both provide a similar record, though Luke omits the high priest’s tearing of his clothes.  The beastly response that Stephen’s words received has already been noted, so it does not need to be rehearsed here, but it will suffice to say that it was also determined that he had blasphemed and was deserving of death.  Both Jesus and Stephen, according to the record of Scripture, were ultimately driven outside of the city, whereupon the prescribed sentence was set upon them. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stephen's Trial & Death (part 1)

“Look,” he said.  “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” – Acts 7:56  (NET)

With these words, Stephen fell into a high degree of disfavor with the men to whom he was speaking.  Stephen, of course, the man often referred to as the first Christian martyr, was speaking to the Jerusalem council.  He had been arrested because some men, who “were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” (6:10), convinced others to accuse Stephen of “speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God” (6:11b).  With this, they are said to have “incited the people, the elders, and the experts in the law” (6:12a), so he was seized and brought before the council.  It would seem to be clear that there was a desire for Stephen to suffer a fate similar to the Jesus of whom he spoke. 

When asked by the council to answer the charges against him, Stephen, in the grand tradition of the prophets of old, recounted the history of Israel beginning with Abraham.  In what would have been a recognizable fashion to the assembled hearers, Stephen retraced the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the exodus, the golden calf, Joshua, David, and Solomon, demonstrating the supreme importance of Israel’s historically-based self-understanding of themselves as the covenant people of the Creator God. 

He then closed his dissertation by saying “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did!  Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?  They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become!  You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it” (7:51-53). 

Not unexpectedly (at least in what would have been the understanding of the recipient of the book of Acts, which was the second part of the Luke/Acts series), “When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him” (7:54).  As Luke tells this story, it is almost as if he wants to give the reader the impression that these men were responding to the words of Stephen in the manner of beasts.  Then, Stephen, having “looked intently toward heaven” where he insists that he “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (7:55), went ahead and made an addendum to his dissertation by saying “Look, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” 

This further enraged his hearers, so much so that, in the previously implied manner of wild animals, “they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent” (7:57).  That one intent, of course, was slaughter, which is made clear by the following verse, which reports that “When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him” (7:58a), with this ultimately resulting in his death. 

Why did they respond with such reportedly beastly fury?  What was it that Stephen had said that could cause them to respond in such a way?  Certainly, this was not the first time that somebody had been critical of the council.  Were they upset because he had referred to them as murderers and betrayers?  Not likely.  In their minds, in his reference to Jesus, Stephen was merely referring to a blasphemer with whom they had summarily and properly dealt and who had been rightfully executed as a state criminal and challenger to the power of Rome, so they were not inclined to consider themselves to have been murderers and betrayers.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 16 of 16)

Why were both Daniel (figuratively) and Jesus (literally) resurrected from their respective (or intended) graves with no injury?  The answer that was given in Daniel’s case, as has already been seen, was “because he had trusted in his God” (6:23b).  This was true of Daniel, and it is equally true of Jesus.  At this point, Daniel could have easily retreated once again into the words of the Psalmist, saying “For He did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed; He did not ignore him; when he cried out to Him, He responded” (22:24).  This crying out would be based upon a hopeful trust in the delivering power of Israel’s faithful, covenant God.  Such words could certainly be found, reflecting that same trust, on the lips of a risen Jesus as well.  Trust was paramount.  

Now, the fact that Jesus’ ordeal of suffering is so closely linked to the story of Daniel’s ordeal of suffering, with both sharing the controlling, compelling narrative of the twenty-second Psalm, what now follows in Daniel’s story helps to shed a great deal of light on the response to the stories of Jesus’ Resurrection. 

If Jesus has successfully connected Himself to the story of Daniel, and it seems that He has, then this does not bode well for those who were directly responsible for His death.  For “The king,” who is positioned as the sovereign ruler desirous of appointing a “resurrected” Daniel to a place of rule over his entire kingdom (with all of the connections to the kingdom-related desires of the God of Israel and His messiah that are implied and which would have been well understood in Jesus’ day), “gave another order, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the lions’ den---they, their children, and their wives.  They did not even reach the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (6:24). 

With such a fate in mind, there is little wonder that the chief priests and elders began telling the story that “His disciples came at night and stole His body” (Matthew 28:13b).  It is not difficult to understand why these same men would later order the disciples “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18b), and later reminded the disciples of this order, saying “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name” (5:28a).  The words that immediately follow the reminder of the order draw direct attention to the men that were cast into the lion’s den, as well as the shouts of the people upon Pilate’s washing of his hands, as they said, “Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood on us!” (5:28b) 

When one considers that the story of Daniel, for a number of reasons, was so incredibly important and significant to the Jews of the first century, and that Jesus had so well seized upon that fact (especially during the whole of His ordeal), it makes sense that those who stood to find themselves identified with Daniel’s accusers (and therefore identified with those thrown to the lions) so furious with and desirous of executing (Acts 5:33) those who said things like (noting the parallels with Daniel) “The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging Him on a tree.  God exalted Him to His right hand as Leader and Savior” (5:30-31a).  Anyone who found him or herself in that position would be just as unwilling to allow this story to be told. 

Ultimately, as was said of Daniel’s God by Darius, as he is said to have echoed what was previously set forth by the Psalmist, would be said of Jesus and His God, by the church, with this communicated to what would eventually be all believers by the Apostle Paul.  Jesus experienced and overcame His own den of lions, and (noting the parallels with Daniel) “As a result God exalted Him and gave Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow---in heaven and on earth and under the earth---and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).             

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 15 of 16)

Upon opening the lion’s den and expectantly calling out into the darkness, the very first words that Darius is said to have heard from Daniel were “O king, live forever!” (6:21b)  This was followed by Daniel’s report about the angel, the lion’s mouths, and a lack of harm to come to him.  To this Daniel added, by way of explanation, that he had not suffered the expected demise “because I was found to be innocent before him.  Nor have I done any harm to you, O king” (6:22b). 

With this, Daniel has confirmed the king’s Psalm-inspired inquiry, effectively answering the Psalmist’s pleading words in regards to the lions from the verse previously quoted, with more of the Psalmist’s words, which were “You have answered me” (22:21c).  As the Psalm continues to play out here in the Daniel story, when Daniel speaks to the king and says “live forever,” the Psalmist can almost be heard saying “Let those who seek His help praise the Lord!  May You live forever!” (22:26b).  When Daniel speaks of not having done any harm to the king, the Psalmist can be heard declaring: “You loyal followers of the Lord, praise Him!” (22:23a).        

Following Daniel’s Psalm-ic declaration, the king is obviously and demonstrably thrilled.  The author reports that “the king was delighted and gave an order to haul Daniel up from the den.  So Daniel was hauled up out of the den.  He had no injury of any kind, because he had trusted in his God” (6:23).  Here one remembers that one of the first similarities that could be observed between the stories of Daniel and Jesus was that Darius had intended to appoint Daniel over his entire kingdom.  This, of course, was also the Creator God’s intention for His messiah, who was to be appointed over the kingdom of heaven on earth. 

So Darius, in essence, gets to play multiple roles, which assists in explaining why it is that he does not disappear from the tale of Daniel’s suffering to vindication in the way that Pilate disappears from the story of Jesus’ suffering to vindication.  Because of the desire to bequeath dominion over a kingdom, Darius, in the context of the analogy and in the telling of Daniel’s being pulled from what was to be his tomb, is here positioned in the role that would be taken up by the Creator, covenant God of Israel in relation to His messiah. 

What is here said in the story of Daniel, not surprisingly, is also to be said of the story of Jesus.  Darius was delighted and he gave an order for Daniel to be hauled up out of the pit of death into which he had been sent.  This is what the God of Israel would also do for Jesus, who is said to be the Son in whom He delighted.  Not only did Darius give the order, but Darius also had the power to execute the order, thus Daniel was taken out of the den.  Naturally, the Creator of the cosmos had the power to pull Jesus up out of death and the grave as well, and so He was. 

It is written that Daniel had no injury of any kind, and this because the lions’ mouths had been closed.  Jesus, of course, had been subjected to a terrifyingly painful and shameful ordeal, in which He suffered torment and grave injuries that ultimately resulted in death.  However, when He came forth from the grave, apart from the marks of the nails in His hands and feet (preserved for some reason), it appeared as if He had been subject to no injuries.  Why was this?  Had the lion’s mouths been closed?  Well, if one was to think of His accusers and opponents as the lions, then they were most certainly not closed.  However, if one consider those men to have been little more than the physical manifestations and pawns of the lion of man’s ultimate enemy, that being death, then yes, the lion’s mouth had been closed. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 14)

The record of Daniel presents King Darius as being supremely vexed by the whole situation.  Concordantly, it is said that “the king,” after sealing Daniel to his doom, “departed to his palace.  But he spent the night without eating, and no diversions were brought to him.  He was unable to sleep” (6:18).  One is left only to wonder if the same could be said of Pilate after presiding over Jesus’ trial and sending him off to His death.  It is a remarkable feature of the book of Daniel, and of this story of Daniel and the lion’s den, that Darius is never criticized or condemned for the role that he played.  Such is a remarkable feature of the Gospels and their accounts of Pilate, in that the authors do not treat him harshly in their assorted tellings of the story. 

Though Pilate disappears from the New Testament scene following the Christ-event, this is not to be said of Darius.  After his fitful and troubling night, the reader learns that “In the morning, at the earliest sign of daylight, the king got up and rushed to the lion’s den” (6:19).  There is an interesting measure of hopeful trust on display in this action by Darius.  By this, he appears to have taken quite seriously whatever it is (likely the twenty-second Psalm, as previously discussed) that Daniel had said leading up to his being deposited into the den of lions. 

Honestly, why else would the king be rushing to the lion’s den?  What was he expecting?  It is unlikely that any had ever survived that particular ordeal---it is akin to the disciples rushing to the tomb upon hearing the reports of its being empty and that Jesus was alive.  The stark and obvious contrast however, is that the disciples did not rush to Jesus’ tomb of their own accord, and those that had previously visited the tomb did not do so with any expectation of a Resurrection.  They knew that Jesus was dead.  They had seen it happen.  This speaks well of the Persian king.  

Strangely, at least as it would sound in the ears of the king’s attendants, “As he approached the den, he called out to Daniel in a worried voice” (6:20a).  So not only has the king rushed to the lion’s den, but now, for some reason, he is calling out to the man that has been tossed into that place only to experience the certain death that has overcome every other person ever relegated to that place.  Is this not odd?  Is this not what is being done by those that call out to Jesus?  Indeed, it does seem to be the case that those that call out to Jesus are in fact calling out to one that was presumed to be dead, with that calling out based upon a hopeful trust in the God that is called upon and referenced as a God that delivers.  Darius is indeed cast as an instructive and sympathetic figure in this drama. 

Darius called out to Daniel and said, “Daniel, servant of the living God, was your God whom you continually serve able to rescue you from the lions?” (6:20b)  Here, reinforcing a guiding premise of this study, Darius essentially quotes Psalm 22:21, in which the Psalmist has implored the Creator God of Israel to “Rescue me from the mouth of the lion” (22:21a).  Those that hear this story go on to learn that “Daniel spoke to the king” (6:21a). 

Can one not imagine what was felt by Darius upon hearing the voice of Daniel?  Darius knows that he, through agreeing to a careless and somewhat conceited course of action had, by any reasonable consideration, brought death to the man who was his most highly trusted adviser.  Now, he is hearing Daniel speak.  The one whom Darius had sent to death has been, almost before his very eyes, raised up to life.  This is nothing short of a virtual resurrection, though it becomes known from the report of Daniel’s own words that “God sent His angel and closed the lion’s mouths so that they have not harmed me” (6:22a), so there has been no actual death and resurrection here.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 13)

Just as a stone had been placed and sealed over what was to be Daniel’s tomb, so too was a stone placed and sealed over the tomb of Jesus.  If Daniel had indeed spoken the twenty-second Psalm in the ears of all who were there to hear him, which is a reasonable proposition to believe, then Daniel spoke of something akin to a resurrection---and Daniel did is said to have indeed come out of that which had been intended to be his tomb, unscathed by the lions. 

Jesus’ reference to the same Psalm, coupled with His own talk of rising again, together with His references to Daniel and the “Son of Man” tradition that it contained, can be presumed to have caused a bit of worry.  The main difference, however, was that nobody was able to witness the events inside the lion’s den, whereas all and sundry were able to be witnesses of Jesus’ horrific death.  Therefore, in the minds of the bringers of death, the only way that Jesus could be said to have risen again was for His disciples to come and steal His body, and simply lie about why the body had gone missing and why the tomb was now empty.  This is what precipitated the sealing of the tomb.  In the case of Darius and Daniel and the sealing of that tomb, it was likely to have been sealed at the insistence of the nobles, so that Darius himself, since he had been quite desperate to spare Daniel, would not come and attempt to retrieve Daniel from the den.

Is there really a good reason to believe that Psalm 22 was spoken by Daniel?  The Gospels report that Jesus spoke the words of the Psalm, but could one presume that Daniel did the same?  Is there any evidence that such a thing took place?  To that end, it is to be noted that, following from his suffering and his vindication and his declaration of praises, the Psalmist goes on to say “Let all the people of the earth acknowledge the Lord and turn to Him!  Let all the nations worship You!  For the Lord is king and rules over the nations.  All of the thriving people of the earth will join the celebration and worship; all those who are descending into the grave will bow before Him, including those who cannot preserve their lives.  A whole generation will serve Him; they will tell the next generation about the sovereign Lord.  They will come and tell about His saving deeds; they will tell a future generation what He has accomplished” (22:27-31).  These words follow talk of help, deliverance, and rescue. 

Turning back to Daniel then, and skipping over the events that are reported (though there shall be a return to them), it is reported that “King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and language groups who were living in all the land: ‘Peace and prosperity!  I have issued an edict that throughout all the dominion of my kingdom people are to revere and fear the God of Daniel.  “For He is the living God; He endures forever.  His kingdom will not be destroyed; His authority is forever.  He rescues and delivers and performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.  He has rescued Daniel from the power of lions!”’” (6:25-27)  Here, the words of the Psalmist and of Darius are astonishingly similar.           

For all practical purposes, when Daniel was placed in the den of lions, death was his lot.  There was to be no escape.  In reality, there could be no escape.  His fate was to be the same as that of Jesus---and that fate was death.  Though Daniel did not succumb to the limits of mortality, as did Jesus, and though a hopefulness for deliverance was expressed by Darius, it is appropriate to suggest that Daniel, when sealed into the lion’s den, had been overtaken by death.  One can be assured that his opponents celebrated a great victory, confident that they had done away with one that had been oh so troubling to their plans for power and authority.  Certainly, Jesus’ opponents celebrated in a similar fashion and for similar reasons. 

Den Of Lions (part 12)

Now, returning to the issue of what it was that Darius said to Daniel, it is worth asking again why it was that Darius said what he said.  It would seem to make a great deal of sense that Daniel, who was being threatened with the lion’s den, would have quoted this Psalm to Darius, with Darius quite easily able to make the connection (based on a review of the Psalm to this point) between the words of the Psalm and what it was that he knew Daniel was going to be experiencing.  After the Psalmist speaks of his horrific plight, and his being set in the dust of death amidst lions and wild dogs, while indicating that death was inescapable (the Psalmist speaking of a state of exile, in strong Israelite tradition), there comes a change of tone. 

After the Psalmist considers himself dead, which is indicated by the fact that “They were dividing up my clothes among themselves; they are rolling dice for my garments” (22:18), as dead men need no clothes, he speaks of deliverance.  The Psalmist speaks and says “But you, O Lord, do not remain far away!  You are my source of strength!  Hurry and help me!  Deliver me from the sword!  Save my life…!  Rescue me…! (using Israel’s familiar exodus language)  You have answered me!” (22:19-21) 

It is in the wake of this that the Psalmist insists that he “will declare Your Name to my countrymen!  In the middle of the assembly I will praise You!” (22:22)  Could this be why Darius says to Daniel that “Your God whom you continually serve will rescue you,” as he was somehow and in some way expecting Daniel to be preserved?  If Daniel has cast himself in the role of the Psalmist that is now experiencing this misfortune, which would not be terribly difficult considering the nature of the ordeal (den of lions), then it is not a stretch in the least little bit to presume that Daniel made this Psalm known to Darius and to all who were responsible for this attempt on his life, as did Jesus.     

Not only could Daniel have spoken the words of the Psalm in the ears of Darius, but like Jesus, he could also have offered these words to the ears of all of his accusers as well.  Darius then, could have heard and responded to what could be believed to be Daniel’s strange choice of words, which spoke of help, deliverance, rescue, and answering that would enable him to declare the Name and praises of his God following the ordeal.  Naturally, the others could have responded to the words as well.  So upon Daniel’s having been thrown into the den of lions, and subsequent to the king’s reassuring words to him (spurred by Daniel’s faithful referencing to a song of His people), “a stone was brought and placed over the opening to the den.  The king sealed it with his signet ring and with those of his nobles so that nothing could be changed with regard to Daniel” (6:17).  This should quickly put one in mind of Matthew’s reports of what followed Jesus’ death (surrounded by “dogs” and “lions,” with His allusions to Psalm 22), after Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and placed it in his own tomb. 

Matthew reports that “The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive He said, “After three days I will rise again.”  So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day.  Otherwise His disciples may come and steal His body and say to the people, “He has been raised from the dead,” and the last deception will be worse than the first.’  Pilate said to them, ‘Take a guard of soldiers.  Go and make it as secure as you can.’  So they went with the soldiers of the guard and made the tomb entrance secure by sealing the stone” (Matthew 27:62-66).  According to the Gospel records, Jesus had indeed spoken of rising again after three days.  Along with that, His recent reference to the twenty-second Psalm (while on the cross) in an atmosphere in which there was a great awareness of the book of Daniel, as well as a constant looking forward to a Davidic king not unlike the king that had been said to have spoken that great Psalm, would have induced this exchange between Pilate and those responsible for Jesus’ own journey into the metaphorical lion’s den that was crucifixion and death.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 11)

When all efforts at recourse had been attempted and spent, Darius was forced to relent.  “So the king gave the order, and Daniel was brought and thrown into a den of lions” (Daniel 6:16a).  Surely, this was going to be a horrible fate.  Though the Persians engaged in the practice of crucifixion, it was not of the type that was practiced by the Romans.  This manner of punishment could well be considered to be the crucifixion of the day.  It was certainly a dramatic method of shaming, as was crucifixion.   

Before being delivered over to what was understood to be his certain death, “The king consoled Daniel by saying, ‘Your God whom you continually serve will rescue you!’” (6:16b)  It is quite interesting that Darius, a Persian king, would say such a thing before throwing this Jewish prophet into a den of lions.  Why would he say this?  Was he familiar with the Psalms?  Had Daniel, before that point, made reference to the twenty-second Psalm?  If he had, and if this was part of the larger story of Daniel that was passed through the centuries and told even at Jesus’ day, then it makes for an even tighter analogy between Daniel and Jesus, as one considers the situation in which the one that is crying out to the Creator God finds himself. 

Naturally, when the Psalmist references “a roaring lion that rips its prey” (22:13a), pleads that his God will “Rescue me from the mouth of the lion” (22:21a), and speaks of “a gang of evil men” that “crowd around me,” and “like a lion they pin my hands and feet” (22:16b), the tighter connection goes beyond the simple reference to lions in this Psalm,  Though this is quite the shining example of a connection between the ordeals of Daniel and Jesus, that is not the limit of the link.  When Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” (22:1a), He is not merely quoting a single verse, but rather, in the established rabbinic tradition, and in the tradition of the teachers of Israel, He is drawing attention and calling to mind an entire narrative.  Jesus, again in strong rabbinic tradition, together with the Gospel author, wants the entire Psalm, as well as any particular stories that are linked to that Psalm, told with reference to that Psalm and given context by that Psalm. 

The story of Daniel would be one of those stories that would likely have come to be inextricably linked with this Psalm.  So when the people, and especially the leaders of the people that bear the responsibility for His death, hear this cry from Jesus, they will recall the whole of the Psalm.  They will consider the Psalmist’s reference to lions, and the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (with Daniel so popular and well known in the day) will immediately come to mind.  Jesus would be here be linking His plight with that of Daniel, making His previous references to the seventh chapter of Daniel, and His reference to the Son of Man (and by extension the beast that is doing battle against the saints of the Most High, and the Ancient of Days, and the kingdom given to the Son of Man, and the four hundred ninety year period of Daniel’s prophecy) as He stood before the High Priest, even more telling. 

The words of this Psalm can easily be put into the mouths of both Daniel and Jesus.  Both groaned in prayer (22:1b), cried out to God (22:2a), relied upon the promises given to Israel and its ancestors, (22:4), trusted upon their God’s power to perform according to those promises (22:5), were insulted and despised by their adversaries (22:6), experienced taunting and mocking (22:7), given up to the salvation of their God as a test of His power and their truthfulness (22:8), hemmed in by the powerful (22:12), devoured with words (22:13a), set in the dust of death (22:15b), and experienced the gloating of their enemies (22:17b). 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 10)

Moving on, again, to the Gospel of John, the picture here painted is even more fascinatingly interesting than that which is found in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  As was seen with Daniel, and as was able to be seen a bit more explicitly with Luke, an even more poignant reference to kingly power is found here in John.  After reading here about Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus, the voices of the Jewish leaders are heard shouting “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar!  Everyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar!” (19:12b)  This represents quite an interesting turn of events.  It is unlikely that Pilate has ever heard such words escape the lips of a leader of the Jews, and almost certainly not as a means to justify the putting to death of one of their own people. 

Surely, by this point Pilate had been able to gather more information about Jesus.  If this had been the case, he would have learned that Jesus had been hailed as a teacher and a healer and a worker of miracles.  He may have even now been made aware of the raising of Lazarus and the crowds that had gathered to see Jesus (and Lazarus---this story is recorded only in the Gospel of John) when He had entered Jerusalem riding the back of a donkey, to what had been the approving shouts of acclimation from the assembled masses.  Learning these things, Pilate would then be left to wonder to where those crowds had disappeared, as he now only hears the fellow countrymen of the accused---this one who had done such marvelous things for so many people---pressing theirs and Pilate’s loyalty to Caesar and to his rule as grounds for enacting the dishonorable death by crucifixion. 

It stands to reason that Pilate, with his experience of governing Judea and the constant subversive undercurrent that flowed among his subjects, would have to have been perplexed by this appeal to Rome’s rule, especially when the initial shouts of “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” (19:6) were accompanied by an appeal to a different basis for execution, when it was said that “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He claimed to be the Son of God!” (19:7)  When the appeal to their own law was ineffective in swaying Pilate, they changed course and appealed to Pilate’s desire to have security in his position (“friend of Caesar”), adding an appeal to Roman law and that which was required for those who attempt to usurp Caesar’s absolute power. 

This would not be lost on Pilate.  Seeing that he could do nothing to change the minds of these people and that he would be unable to secure Jesus’ release (which was odd to say the least---a Roman governor attempting to free a wonder-working Jewish holy man, but unable to do so because releasing Him to His own people would start a riot, thereby jeopardizing his own position within Rome’s power structure, as he would be seen as incapable of ruling this small province), Pilate seized on this opportunity to bring these leaders of the people in line and humiliate them because of what they were doing.  He would do this with their very own words, as after hearing them speak of being a friend of Caesar and about opposition to Caesar, Pilate set the prisoner before the people and said “Look, here is your king!” (19:14b)  To this assertion, the ultimate reply made by the Jewish leaders was “We have no king but Caesar!” (19:15b).  This would have been an amazing turn of events indeed. 

The cry of these people, for years on end as they looked for a king in the line of David who would usher in the glorious kingdom of their God, free Israel from its oppressors, and end the long night of subjection to one foreign ruler after another---had been “No king but God!”  Lives had been lain down for this claim.  Their history was replete with the stories of men and women and children that had been brutally and mercilessly tortured because of this claim.  Now, the very one that claimed to be their king and to be the one for which they had been waiting, as their God had finally entered into history, once again, to act on behalf of His people and to establish His kingdom and who embodied the claim of “No king but God!”, was going to be sent to a brutal torture and a merciless cross.  This would take place in the falling echoes of His people’s claim that they had “no king except Caesar!”    

Monday, October 21, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 9)

When one moves on to Luke, and as one considers that which clinched the argument for Daniel’s foes (“Recall, O king…), the chief priests and elders can be found making a more explicit reference to Jesus’ challenge to the power of the king.  Remember, Luke reports Jesus’ foes saying that Jesus was forbidding the people to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and claiming kingship for Himself (Luke 23:1-2), which carries an implicit claim that Caesar’s rule is irrelevant.  To this they added that “He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea” (23:5a). 

This “inciting” of the people, in the ears of the Roman governor, would have caused him to make an inference in the area of “revolution”.  Knowing the history and expectations of these people over which he ruled, such words would have been quite troubling, as it was a charge that was taken seriously by Rome’s provincial rulers.  It was at this point that Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who then returns Jesus to Pilate, which subsequently finds Pilate desirous of securing Jesus’ release after a flogging. 

The implications are that there was nothing to the charges being leveled against Jesus.  The people, however, who are actually being incited by those that sought to bring about the death of Jesus (asserting themselves in a way that was an ironic rejection of Caesar’s rule), reject Pilate’s proposal.  Pilate, undaunted, “addressed them once again because he wanted to release Jesus” (23:20).  Interestingly, it is the continued pursuit of Jesus’ execution as a state criminal, with this after neither Pilate nor Herod could find substantiation for such the claims being made against Him, serve to make Caesar’s rule irrelevant.   

At this, the Gospel author reports that the shouts of the crowd had begun to include an insistence to “Crucify, crucify Him!” (23:21b)  Pilate had already reasoned that crucifixion---that horrible and ignominious death that is reserved for recalcitrant slaves and openly rebellious subjects---was not something that was deserved by this Jesus, who, apart from affirming that He was the king of the Jews (with no obvious evidence to support this claim---no circumstantial evidence, nor any followers attempting to intervene on His behalf, whether through violent or non-violent means), had not entered into actions that would make it incumbent upon Pilate to pass such a sentence. 

So Pilate, in an exasperated plea that must be somewhat reminiscent of King Darius, says “Why?  What wrong has He done?  I have found Him guilty of no crime deserving death.  I will therefore flog Him and release Him” (23:22).  As it was for Jesus, so it had been for Daniel.  Darius clearly had no desire to see Daniel suffer the horrific punishment of a state criminal---being put to death in the den of lions, and Pilate had no desire to see this come upon Jesus either.  He wanted this to be clear to all, so returning briefly to Matthew (viewing the story through the lenses of the collected Gospel records, as it is likely that all of the authors had been heavily influenced by the Daniel story), as he saw that “a riot was starting, he took some water, washed his hands before the crowd and said, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood.  You take care of it yourselves!’” (27:24b) 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 8)

As far as Pilate was concerned, and based on what was sure to have been the experience of provincial governors throughout the empire of Rome, someone making an absolute claim to kingship would not be standing there completely alone.  In addition to that, the accused would more than likely be calling down judgments upon Rome, making proclamations about his innocence as he protested the abuses of imperial power and the illegitimacy of Rome’s rule.  According to the accumulated record of these events, Jesus did none of these things.  He is said to have answered simply and briefly. 

What would have made this scene all the more amazing to Pilate was that in the midst of all of this, Jesus was being “accused by the chief priests and the elders,” but “He did not respond” (Matthew 27:12).  Pilate, seeming to be (and probably) utterly perplexed by this, says “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?” (27:13)  Jesus, however, “did not answer even one accusation” (27:14a), and summing up the entirety of the situation in which he found himself, Matthew adds to his narrative concerning the most important event in all of human history that “the governor was quite amazed” (27:14b).  Apparently, Jesus acted in a way quite unlike anyone Pilate had ever encountered. 

Returning then to the book of Daniel, and in contrast to Jesus’ experience, one does not there find a trial.  It is conspicuous by its absence.  In consideration of that fact, it could be said that Daniel was as quiet and as reserved as was Jesus, with Jesus taking up a Daniel-like posture as He endured the circumstances to which His life and mission had come.  If the Biblical narrative holds true to form, it is likely that Daniel offered no particular defense.  If Darius would have asked him if the accusations that were being made against him were true, it is probable that Daniel would have said something like “You say so.” 

One can easily picture the scene in which the satraps and the governors and the other supervisors of the kingdom were making these accusations as Daniel stood before Darius, with Darius saying “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?”  Daniel, providing the fore-running example through the presumed strange silence in this area, in which a trial (if there was one) goes unreported, would most likely have not answered even one accusation, so that the king would have been quite amazed. 

A bit further on in Matthew, it is reported that Pilate “knew that they had handed Him (Jesus) over because of envy” (27:18).  This is an important social consideration in the honor and shame culture, and goes further than simple jealousy.  Based on the presentation of Darius, one can be assured that the Persian king knew this to be true of those that were handing Daniel over to him.  Such would have been grounds for an additional objection that could have been raised and pointed out by both Daniel and Jesus, but the records demonstrate that they were not. 

Daniel knew that the ordeal would be difficult, but he also knew that the authority of a kingdom was coming to him (because Darius wished to appoint Daniel over his entire kingdom---6:3b).  Likewise, Jesus knew that the ordeal to which He was then being subjected and which was going to get far worse in the hours to come, would be extraordinarily difficult.  However, He also trusted that it was a path that required traversing because of His hopes that the authority of a kingdom was coming to Him as well.   

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 7)

Both Darius and Pilate share a common approbation within the Scriptural narrative, in that they diligently sought for a way to release the men whose lives and fates were placed in their power, with both unable to find good reason why the accused should be sent to their deaths.  As was said, their efforts ultimately proved to be futile.  After Darius failed to stumble upon a reasonable solution, the presumed jealousy and bloodlust of Daniel’s adversaries made itself manifest, as “those men came by collusion to the king and said to him, ‘Recall, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no edict or decree that the king issues can be changed.’” (Daniel 6:15)  Yet again, the congruence of this event with that which was experienced by Jesus is striking. 

Bearing in mind the accusation of ignoring the king and his edicts that had been effectively leveled against both Daniel and Jesus (by their respective accusers), and therefore the creation of a dynamic which has both Daniel and Jesus positioning themselves as somehow not subject to the rule and authority of the king, the observer can turn to Matthew’s record of the encounter between ruler and ruled and find Pilate ironically asking Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews?” (27:11b) 

If Jesus was to answer in an obvious affirmative, then Pilate would have then had an undeniable (and for Pilate’s purposes, unfortunate) reason to send Him to His death as a rebellious subject that had brought the punishment for sedition and treason upon Himself.  A “yes” would mean that Jesus was challenging the legitimate rule of Rome, which, combined with the fact of the crowds and the accusations themselves, would have been highly charged rhetoric in the Israel of Jesus’ day, and it would have demanded a crucifixion-shaped response. 

Thinking of Darius’ situation and the words of “Recall, O king…” in reference to his laws, can these men be heard basically asking Darius, albeit with great subtlety, “So are you king or are you not the king”?  Pilate, of course, stands as proxy for Rome and for the Caesar, and the question he puts to Jesus is stirred by those seeking to put Jesus to death.  Without their efforts, it is unlikely that Jesus would have caught the attention of the governor.  For all practical purposes, as the stories of Daniel and Jesus are compared (and it is difficult to overstate how much influence the Daniel narrative had in that day) Jesus’ enemies have come to Pilate, who is the representative of the power of Rome, and said “Recall, O king, that it is a law that anyone who claims kingship, in defiance of Caesar, must be handed over to death.” 

To Pilate’s query, Jesus responded, “You say so” (27:11c).  This was not Jesus simply being evasive.  Rather, this stands as an affirmation, as this was a common way of saying “yes.”  Normally, this would have been sufficient to warrant crucifixion, but under normal circumstances a man would not be standing before Pilate, with such vehement accusations being flung against him, without some type of revolutionary, blood-shedding event precipitating the encounter.  Not only would the accused be on trial before Pilate, but there would more than likely be dead Roman soldiers and wounded citizens, along with dead followers of the one on trial, with more of his followers also in custody and waiting to learn the fate of their leader whose fate they would share.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 6)

Undoubtedly, Darius would have been surprised to hear accusations of subversion concerning Daniel, and would have been likely to respond with some measure of incredulity.  Similarly, if this were true of Jesus, Pilate, in his collusion with the temple authorities (particularly the Sadducees), would probably have heard something along these lines (a person claiming to be king, instructing people to not pay taxes to Rome) prior to this point.  So it could safely be said that Pilate regarded the accusation against Jesus with a measure of incredulity as well.  Things of this nature, which would require the attention of the governor, didn’t just happen overnight or occur under a rock.  They build over time and eventually reach a boiling point that would require some type of intervention by Rome. 

If this issue with Jesus was now at the point of Roman intervention, then it stands to reason that Pilate is going to have some familiarity with the charges that are being brought against Jesus.  Contrary to this expectation, the cumulative Gospel record paints a picture of a governor that is fully unaware of the man that is being placed before him, and the subversion of which He is being accused.  To this end, the Gospel of John has these men saying, about Jesus, in response to Pilate’s question of “What accusation to you bring against this man?” (18:29b), “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” (18:30b). 

When it came to Daniel, “When the king heard about this, he was very upset and began thinking about how he might rescue Daniel.  Until late afternoon he was struggling to find a way to rescue him” (6:14).  This is a regular echo of the Gospel accounts.  In Matthew, it is reported that Pilate’s “wife sent a message to him: ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man…’” (27:19b)  In Luke, “Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’” (23:4b) 

Pilate, as he plays a Darius-like role, would even send Jesus to King Herod in order to see if Rome’s puppet-king would intervene on behalf of Jesus so as to spare Pilate from having to take further action.  The Gospels acquit Pilate to an extent, reporting that after Jesus returns from Herod, “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people.  When I examined Him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused Him of doing.  Neither did Herod, for he sent Him back to us.  Look, He has done nothing deserving death.’” (23:13-15) 

Going on to the Gospel of John, Pilate’s actions are there also reported to be quite similar to those of King Darius, looking for a way to spare the accused, as he questions Jesus and eventually says “I find no basis for an accusation against Him” (18:38b).  He repeats these words (“I find no reason for an accusation against Him” – 19:4b) after having Jesus flogged, seemingly hoping that this will satisfy those who have brought Jesus before him.  Again, a third time, against the protests of the chief priests, as they stirred up the crowds, Pilate says “Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against Him” (19:6b). 

The Gospel writer appears to be emphatic (perhaps owing to the charges of overt sedition that were regularly leveled against Christians in the late first century when the Gospel of John is thought to have been composed), insisting on demonstrating that “Pilate tried to release Him” (19:12), exploring every possible option that was available to him, much like Darius struggled to find a way to rescue Daniel from the fate of the den of lions.  Their efforts, of course, were to no avail.     

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 5)

With such knowledge concerning Jesus’ practices and habits in hand, “Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees.  They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons” (John 18:3).  In the case of Daniel, this scene can be read as “Then those officials who had gone to the king came by collusion and found Daniel praying and asking for help before his God” (6:11).  This stands as a stark reminder of what it was that had been Jesus’ plaintive prayer (here mixing Gospel records), as He prayed and asked for help in the time of testing that was coming to Him, saying “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from Me!  Yet not what I will, but what you will…  My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, Your will must be done” (Matthew 26:39b, 42b). 

To this plea, some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke (again, mixing Gospel records as part of this analogical contrasting of Daniel and Jesus) add that “an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43).  This should immediately draw one’s attention to the words of Daniel, in the wake of his night spent in the den of lions, as he insisted that “My God sent His angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not harmed me, because I was found to be innocent before Him” (6:22a).  To these words, a return visit shall be paid.  Owing to the heavy influence of the Daniel story in the time of Jesus, along with the reliance on knowledge of that story and Danielic imagery in the records of the words of Jesus (especially Son of Man language and the thoughts associated therewith), it is unsurprising to hear further echoes of Daniel on the lips of Jesus.     

After observing Daniel in his practice of continuing to pray---continuing, without fail, in the ministry to which he had been appointed by Israel’s faithful God, the men who would have Daniel done away with “approached the king and said to him, ‘Did you not an issue an edict to the effect that for the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than to you, O king, would be thrown into a den of lions?’” (Daniel 6:12a)  This serves to remind an observer that, in Jesus’ day, the Roman emperor was the focal point of a large and increasingly popular religious cult, whose purpose (among others) was to provide a unifying force to a geographically far-flung, as well as ethnically and culturally and religiously diverse empire.  The Roman emperor was recognized as a divine being (the son of god), which is not unlike the movement seen in Daniel, with prayers to be directed solely to the ruler of the world empire that then held sway. 

To the obviously loaded and leading query from his officials “The king replied, ‘That is correct, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed.’” (6:12b)  Knowing that they had successfully been able to lead the king down the path that they so desired---leading him into a corner in which he would be forced to acquiesce to their scheming, the presumably jealous officials seized upon this re-confirmation of the king’s decree and said to him, “Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the edict that you issued.  Three times daily he offers his prayer” (6:13).  Before drawing the necessary analogy, it should be noted that they do not simply tell the king that Daniel is ignoring the edict, but rather, they first say that Daniel pays no attention to the king.  Though the second accusation was entirely true, the first was patently false. 

The goings-on here now enable a return to Jesus being brought before Pilate.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ accusers, after taking Him from His place of prayer (where, it is not to be forgotten, He prayed three on three distinct occasions, probably facing Jerusalem), “rose up and brought Jesus before Pilate.  They began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay tribute tax to Caesar and claiming that He Himself is Christ, a king” (23:1b-2).  If one was so inclined to hear it, this sounds remarkably like the accusation that Daniel paid no attention to the king or to his edicts.  Jesus was, in a sense, subverting the nation, at least in terms of the national aspirations towards militaristic overthrow of Rome, so this part of the accusation was true.  The second part, indicating that Jesus was attempting to subvert Rome (paying no attention to the king) by forbidding the people to pay taxes, was not true. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 4)

Daniel knew that there were lions waiting to devour him if he violated the satrap and governor induced order of the king of Babylon.  However, he continued to ply the course on which he had been set, and is said to have continued praying openly and without shame, as he always had done.  Daniel is shown to have continued in steadfast faithfulness to the God that he understood to have chosen him and specifically appointed him, that had apparently used him over and over, that had preserved his life, that had raised him up to a position of power and prestige, and had put him in the place where he had much to lose by continuing to walk the path of a prayerful trust in his God.  If one was to read these last few lines again, would it not be possible to simply replace “Daniel” with “Jesus”? 

As was said before, as far as the story is concerned, Daniel did not make any attempts at persuading the king to change the order or to issue a new decree.  Daniel did not attempt to foment a rebellion to overthrow the king and install himself as king, which he might very well have been able to do.  No.  This was not the path.  Instead, he placed his trust in the faithful, covenant God of Israel, to provide him with salvation (deliverance, exodus), regardless of what might occur. 

The same can be said for Jesus, when faced with what was, in essence, the same situation.  Both Daniel and Jesus would move forward with a confident reliance upon promises granted and outcomes implied.  Daniel continued to travel the route on to which he had been placed by his God, which had brought him to the position in which he now found himself, which had caused him to be hated by some, and which had caused his enemies to want to destroy him.  The life of Jesus echoes in these statements, through and through. 

What, specifically, was Daniel’s response to learning what his adversaries had planned to entrap him?  “When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem.  Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously” (Daniel 6:10).  From this point, the analogies to Jesus present themselves in rapid fire succession. 

It is reported that Daniel prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, and that he did so three times each day.  The men who stood against Daniel, and who wanted to destroy him, would have possessed the knowledge that Daniel did this.  The story would seem to imply that they were counting on the fact that Daniel would continue in his customary practice, and that he would not hide himself in his praying, even with the deadly decree having been issued against him.  What can be said in analogy to Jesus in this regard? 

Well, His betrayal took place in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was just across the Kidron Valley, opposite the eastern walls of Jerusalem.  The record of Jesus’ activity in that garden is that He went off by Himself, on three individual occasions, to pray.  It is not difficult to imagine that He prayed, like Daniel, facing Jerusalem; and the fact of three prayers playing a part in both stories cannot be written off as mere coincidence.  In addition, just as Daniel’s opponents knew that he openly prayed in the manner that is reported, the Gospel of John reports that “Judas, the one who betrayed Him (Jesus), knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times with His disciples” (John 18:2). 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 3)

Before moving forward, it’s appropriate to put some flesh and blood on this story.  For all practical purposes, the story of Daniel asks the readers to understand that Daniel has effectively become the second most powerful man in the empire.  He knew his position.  Similarly, it can be suggested that Jesus, in all likelihood knew (based on the events of his life, from what He would have been told were the angelic prophecies of His birth, to His experience at the age of twelve in Jerusalem, to His baptism, to the miracles that attended His ministry), or at least had a strong and abiding hope, that He was the Creator God’s Messiah for Israel. 

Daniel, who is presented as a wise counselor and keen politician, would have been well aware that Darius desired to make him the ruler of the kingdom.  Likewise, if Jesus strongly believed Himself to be the Messiah (to the point that He presents Himself as a messiah-figure, while, according to the Gospel accounts of His life, also used messianic titles, imagery, and language in reference to Himself), then He also strongly believed that He was the one that was to be appointed as King of the coming kingdom of God.  Indeed, Jesus seems to be in a state of almost constant awareness of what awaits Him at the end of His journey, as He is reported to have made regular references to the betrayal and suffering and death and resurrection to which He understood Himself to be headed. 

The picture of Jesus that is presented in the Gospels is one in which He has a complete mastery over all that eventually happens to Him at the hands of His adversaries, especially as He lays down His life willingly.  So it was with Daniel.  In the narrative that bears his name, Daniel exudes an aura of measured control.  In addition, he was by no means a political novice, as before King Darius comes on the scene, he is said to have dealt quite well with the great King Nebuchadnezzar, gaining power and prestige in Babylon in the process. 

Both Daniel and Jesus were astute observers who were well engaged with the machinations of the political machines of their days.  Owing to this, there is very little chance that Daniel was unaware of what was happening, just as Jesus is shown to have known what was going on behind the scenes in the corridors of power, owing to His miracles and His proclamation of the presence of the kingdom of God, with its inclusion of all and sundry peoples. 

Daniel, with the position that he had attained, could quite easily have stepped in and protested the decree that had been proposed.  Had he so desired, he could probably have kept it from being made.  The same could presumably be said of Jesus, as when He is arrested in the garden, He speaks of being able to call upon more than twelve legions of angels to protect Him if that was His desire.  It is easy to imagine that, with the influence and power that he is said to have, Daniel could very well have commanded the loyalty and affection of some of the leaders of the king’s army, attempted a coup, started a revolution, and done any number of things in an attempt to save himself from the repercussions of a decree that was quite obviously directed at him. 

Neither Daniel nor Jesus chose such a route.  Instead, Daniel, just as he had determined to do from the time he reached Babylon, was going to put the Creator God of Israel on display.  More importantly, he was going to put the covenant faithfulness of Israel’s God to rescue His people, on display for all to see.  This too was presumably Jesus’ goal, as He trusted, based on the Scriptural record that was the source of His knowledge of the Creator God, that the covenant God of Israel was going to fulfill His covenant for the world (made with Abraham), through Him and through His death and Resurrection. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 2)

When it came to Daniel and those that are reported to be his adversaries, with jealousy presumed to be the reason for their ugly and unjust disposition towards him, “they were unable to find any such damaging evidence, because he was trustworthy and guilty of no negligence or corruption” (6:4b).  As this is found to be true of Daniel, so it is found to be true of Jesus as well.  Though this analysis need not get too far ahead itself, one only need consider the witnesses at the “trial” of Jesus, who attempted to bring forth condemning accusations and testimony. 

Ultimately, as had been the case with Daniel, their testimony was found to be lacking, though ultimately those adversaries (in both cases) would be successful in that the objects of their respective accusations would be sentenced to death.  In the case of Jesus, plans were hatched and attempts were made to get Him to speak against the Temple, or against the Roman government, or against the Mosaic Law, but all proved futile.  Indeed, Jesus was trustworthy, and could not be found to be guilty of negligence or corruption by which he could be challenged or damaged in any way. 

Having failed to gather any credible evidence against Daniel, “these men concluded, ‘We won’t find any pretext against this man Daniel unless it is in connection with the law of his God.’” (6:5)  Ultimately, this would be the path traveled in the plot to take down Jesus, with the accusation of blasphemy against Israel’s God.  Jesus would be said to have made Himself equal with the Creator God, and would thereby be subject to the attendant demand for death associated with a conviction related to that charge.  However, those that sought to bring death to Jesus were not in a position to carry out that death penalty, so a case had to be made to those who could do so (the Romans).  To that end, Jesus was taken before Pilate. 

Before going any further, it needs to be said that the value in constructs such as the one here being made is that Jesus, as He (as it would be imagined) diligently searched the Scriptures and pondered the ultimate validity of the method that He would employ to bring in the kingdom of God---that being suffering to vindication (exile to exodus), may have found stories with that theme highly instructive for the purpose of what He seemed to have believed was His mission.  Stories such as Daniel could very well have provided Him with guidance, strength, and sustenance for the path that He believed lay ahead of Him.  In this way, He could develop the trust that the God that had been the God of deliverance for a faithful Israelite such as Daniel, would also be the God of deliverance for Him as well. 

Continuing to explore this story of Daniel, one finds that “these supervisors and satraps came by collusion to the king and said to him, ‘O King Darius, live forever!’” (6:6).  After this bit of customary flattery, they continued on and said “To all the supervisors of the kingdom, the prefects, satraps, counselors, and governors it seemed like a good idea for a royal edict to be issued and an interdict to be enforced.  For the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than you, O king, should be thrown into a den of lions” (6:7).  Finally, to this was added, “Now let the king issue a written interdict so that it cannot be altered, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed” (6:8). 

Quite understandably, as these individuals had successfully appealed to human vanity, “King Darius issued the written interdict” (6:9).  With this, he has ironically and unwittingly put in jeopardy the life of the very one that he had intended to appoint over the entire kingdom (a classic hero tale). 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 1)

It seemed like a good idea to Darius to appoint over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps who would be in charge of the entire kingdom.  Over them would be three supervisors, one of whom was Daniel. – Daniel 6:1-2a  (NET)

With this, Daniel appears to have been provided with a tremendous responsibility for a member of the covenant people of the Creator God.  It is written that “These satraps were accountable to them,” meaning the three supervisors, “so that the king’s interests might not incur damage” (6:2b).  These words, as the Hebrew Scriptures, post-Resurrection, ask believers to view them through the lens of the Christ event, allow an observer to make a consideration of the role of Jesus.  That role was to see that His (God’s) interests, that being the salvation of a people and the restoration of His creation, might not incur damage.  Others had been sent into the world for this very purpose.  In fact, if one was inclined to press the analogy, it could be said that Jesus was essentially the third of three “supervisors” that had been appointed to this purpose, with the first being Adam, and the second being Israel. 

As one makes this analogous comparison between Daniel, doing so in association with the story of Daniel and the lion’s den, while taking the extremely wide, cosmic view entailed by connecting the two men together, it is possible to go on to think of the aforementioned one hundred twenty satraps (which is a technical term for an official in charge of a region of the empire) as the steady stream of patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets that had been either chosen or raised up by the Creator God to be partially responsible for protecting that King’s interests from incurring damage. 

With regard to Daniel, one can go on to read that he “was distinguishing himself above the other supervisors and satraps, for he had an extraordinary spirit” (6:3).  Again, it is not difficult to transfer and make the application of these words to Jesus, recalling the event of His baptism, when “a voice came from heaven” saying “You are My one dear Son; in you I take great delight” (Mark 1:11).  To this utterance, Matthew would add that the Spirit of the Creator God descended upon Jesus and came upon Him (Matthew 3:16).  It could certainly be said that, owing to this descent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus possessed an extraordinary spirit that would enable Him to distinguish Himself above Adam and Israel and all of the prophets and holy men of the Creator that had come before Him---thus preserving the King’s interests. 

Of Daniel, it is said that “in fact, the king intended to appoint him over the entire kingdom” (6:3b).  This would be no less true of Jesus, as His God’s apparent intention was to appoint His Messiah, that being Jesus, over the entirety of the kingdom that He Himself was establishing on the earth, as He (Israel’s God) personally embodied the Messiah so as to act in history to inaugurate this kingdom. 

It seems clear that Daniel had great favor with the king, as did Jesus.  As a result, “the supervisors and satraps were trying to find some pretext against Daniel in connection with administrative matters” (6:4a).  On the local (not cosmic) level, because Daniel’s position of authority along with the will of the king is being challenged, it becomes possible to view these supervisors and satraps as the chief priests, elders, scribes, and rulers with whom Jesus, according to the Gospel accounts, almost incessantly finds himself in conflict.  Just as there was a movement against Daniel in the area of “administrative matters,” so too was there a movement against Jesus.  Here, without taking the time and space to go into specifics, one can call to mind the numerous attempts that were made to challenge Jesus and His teaching (in the common battle for honor), along with the questioning of His authority to do and say the things that He was doing and saying. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Only Son (part 26 of 26)

Christians, as the latest and ongoing iterations of the sons of God (understood according to the ongoing narrative of the covenant people), are to live with hands outstretched to the world, in sympathy and compassion, desiring to share the pains and burdens they encounter, and doing so through the life-animating and life-giving Gospel (Jesus is Lord) that mysteriously turns hearers into believers and believers into doers.  It is through this group of kingdom people, who through their manifestation of the power of the Gospel as they live the lives of sons of the Creator God of Israel, that the kingdom of heaven (the power of the age to come which had been remarkably demonstrated by the Resurrection of Jesus) breaks into the present age, and the Creator God works to reverse the condemnation and cursing that had been brought into this creation and unfortunately extended by His sons that had come before.  Yes, the covenant God works in and through believers to bring restoration to His Temple by being His Temple.

If this is understood rightly, and believers comprehend that they are now the sons of God (as was Israel) in union with the Christ when they confess the Gospel (which is said to occur by the power of the Holy Spirit), then they can further understand that it this open-handed, self-sacrificial, and compassionate church of the Christ (operating with a living, breathing hope of resurrection and restoration and renewal---far more than the hope of “going to heaven when they die”) that “is the way God loved the world.”  Yes, it is the covenant people that is the church, who are those that take part in the kingdom of the Creator God that was inaugurated with the Resurrection of Israel’s Messiah, because they/it is recognized as the body of Christ and is the very present Temple of the Creator God, that is tasked to be “His one and only Son” in this world.  Why is this?  “So that everyone who believes in Him”---which includes a believing acknowledgment of the Creator and of His glory and of short-fallings in the light of that glory---“will not perish but have eternal life.” 

This eternal life, of course, is not an escape from this world, but rather an exodus from a life and condition of exile, understood within the hope of a resurrection to come in a renewed and regenerated world that has been set right by its Creator.  To that point, history (according to Israel’s defining story which provides context for Jesus and those that claim allegiance to Him) had seen the Creator God send His sons into the world, with each one seemingly wreaking more havoc than the one before.  However, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (3:17).  This is not about announcing condemnation or pointing out its/their flaws and failures in the “us versus them” dichotomy of “the church versus the world”.  Rather than saving the world, Adam, Israel, and Solomon (those recognized as the sons of God) had brought more condemnation into the world, when the Creator had intended His sons to be the salvation of the world.   

As the sons of God, believes are called to be the embodiment of the Creator God’s love for the good world that He had created and in which He desired (and still desires) to dwell.  As sons, He sends His covenant people out on a daily basis (as was true of Adam, Israel, Solomon prior to the coming of the Christ), under the call of the Lordship of Jesus, to show forth His glory through a compassionate and sensitive love that is aware of the world’s ongoing condemnation, to cause heaven to come to earth whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached and lived, so as to bring an always increasing group of sons (and daughters) into His kingdom through means of a complicit trust in Him and His promises.  Those that call Jesus Lord are to be ambassadors for the hope of resurrection and restoration, which is the promise of eternal life to be enjoyed and experienced at every moment, as they look forward, with great expectation, to that blessed hope.                   

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Only Son (part 25 of 26)

If the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God was yet another demonstration of the Creator God’s love for His world, and if the manifestation of His glory, in and through the Christ, was for the purpose of causing people to believe in Him (to acknowledge and worship Him as Creator) so that eternal life (an entrance into the purpose that the covenant God had always intended for those that He had created to bear His image) could be experienced (rather than the continual perishing under the reign of death that had been brought into the world and exacerbated by the other sons---Adam, Israel, Solomon), then the idea of being “in Christ” takes on an extreme importance. 

Those that are in union with the Christ (in Christ) are said to be brought into that union, with such being demonstrated through the confession of Jesus as Lord of all (in both word and deed), by the power that is somehow inherent in the preached Gospel (Jesus is Lord).  This power of the Gospel is understood to be somehow transmitted by the activity of the Spirit of the Creator God, as one of the manifestations of the very power that is said to have raised Jesus up from the dead, and which is still at work in this world according to the plan and purpose of the Creator God. 

Additionally, those that are in union with the Christ are said to have been crucified and resurrected with Him, for the purpose of being kings and priests to the Most High God, along with the responsibilities implied by those titles.  Indeed, to go beyond that, those that are in union with the Christ are identified as sons of God. 

Those in union with the Christ are those that make up His church and are citizens of the kingdom of the Creator God (kingdom of heaven, rule of God)---a renewed people of the Creator (a new creation), charged with, among other things, reflecting the glory of their God into the world through kingdom-oriented and Spirit-inspired actions.  Effectively, it could be said that those that are in union with the Christ are called to be Solomon’s, Israel’s, and Adam’s for the world, doing so with the mysterious power of the resurrection at their backs, as they speak and live the message of the Gospel, orienting their thoughts and their lives around the fact that Jesus is Lord. 

This means that Christians are called to live a life that is set apart and demonstrably different in their engagement with the world.  This does not mean that Christians hide away, buried underneath the weight of what could very well be a fruitless asceticism, withdrawn and distant from the world in a vain and conceited striving for a pseudo-holiness that is nothing more than a self-serving and selfish attempt to shrink back from the awesome responsibilities that attend this glorious union and its weighty demands.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Only Son (part 24)

As has been previously stated, Scripture insists that Adam was charged to steward the creation and to be the out-raying of the Creator God’s glory in and to the creation in which the Creator is said to have walked with man.  The whole of the creation was this God’s temple.  By Adam’s sin (not being the out-raying of his God’s glory through dis-trust and self-idolatry) this was lost, and the world fell into a terrible state of disrepair, becoming something quite far from the “very good” condition in which it had been ordered by God. 

As the outworking of the covenantal promises to Abraham, Israel was then charged with stewardship over a small portion of that now-fallen creation, with their God promising to dwell with them in the land (their God’s temple) that had been promised to them through Abraham.  From that land, they were to show forth the glory of the covenant God so that all nations would stream to the land of Israel in search of the reasons for their blessings, which would ultimately mean that all men were searching for Israel’s God.  Their record in this, as suggested by their defining historical narrative, is mostly one of failure. 

Solomon was then specifically charged with building a temple within the land.  This Temple, located within the promised land, would then be recognized to be the specific place of the Creator God’s dwelling with His people.  It would then be to the Temple itself to which nations would be drawn, as the Temple itself was filled with the Creator God’s glory, as well as being a magnificent structure that visually testified to the glory of the God for Whom it was made to represent.  Solomon, however, did not show forth his wholehearted trust in his God, falling prey to idolatry as had Adam and Israel before him.  As a result, the Temple of Jerusalem itself would come to be defiled and destroyed, just as the land of promise had been defiled by idolatry, as had the whole of the creation.  All of the Creator God’s temples had been brought to the place of desolation. 

When Jesus came upon the stage of history, the temple in Jerusalem was not the temple that the Creator God had ordered to be built (at least according to Israel’s story).  Rather, it was the temple that had been built under the direction of Cyrus, the king of the Persian empire (who was recognized as the ruler of the world at that point in time).  It was not the place where the glory of the Creator God was reflected into the world, and indeed, Jesus would deride the temple authorities as having turned this temple into a den of robbers, where theft and oppression and injustice took place on a regular basis. 

 In contradistinction to the temple that then stood in Jerusalem, Jesus would speak of Himself as the true Temple.  In doing so, He would speak of Himself as the place in which the glory of the Creator God now resided (according to the widely held belief that the Messiah would somehow be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God), thereby making a physical temple irrelevant and redundant. 

If He was the Son of God, and if He did understand the role and understanding of the son of God within the historical tradition that has here been explored, then it seems likely that Jesus would have understood at least a portion of His role to be the rebuilding and restoration of the very first Temple which the Creator God had originally desired to be the place of His dwelling, that being His once very good creation.  Yes, He would be for Israel what Solomon had been intended to be.  He would be for the nations what Israel had been intended to be.  He would be for the whole of creation what Adam had been intended to be.