reader will note that the text of the Scripture, Daniel 3, is omitted for
reasons of space. The lesson begins with reading the entire chapter.
man Nebuchadnezzar does seem to be a strange sort of person, doesn't he? It's
difficult to avoid the conclusion that Nebuchadnezzar is a man who ruled by his
did he build the statue?
is not entirely a question of Nebuchadnezzar's emotions, but there are some
other good reasons for building such a statute:
there is self-glorification. One of the diseases of kings is that of an
overstretched ego. Every president thinks his face belongs on Mount
importantly, the statue serves to unify his empire. Unity comes from a set
of common beliefs. Without such beliefs, an empire crumbles. In the United
States those beliefs are to be found in such documents as the Declaration
of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
please, that the king does not require that you actually believed in his
particular religion, just that you show the outward signs of obedience. A
hypocrite can be as loyal as the next man. If this bowing down is not painful
to you, then you can be counted as a loyal citizen.
did he react with rage?
must be noted that such religious differences usually do not bother the
reigning king. It is simply a matter of working out a compromise that lets the
citizenry express their complete loyalty to the King while maintaining their
faithfulness to whatever religion they might have. A pair of examples will make
this clear. In the United States, it is sufficient for the citizen to declare
his allegiance without proclaiming the state to be the supreme moral authority.
This has worked well for over 200 years. In China, the opposite approach is
used. Those who do not put the state first are persecuted. Notice what happens.
In the United States, the church is weak. But the underground church in China
is growing rapidly. What does this say for the effective goodness of
Nebuchadnezzar shows us here the effects of a ruler who cannot keep his temper
under control. This almost inevitably produces poorer results. Pride prevents
the king from backtracking and fixing his mistake; and anger prevents
foresight. The result is quite predictable -- except in this instance, where
God takes a hand directly.
of limited religion
interesting to see the kind of religion that most tyrants want. It is a limited
religion. It is valued solely for what the tyrant can obtain from it. This has
two aspects, one ancient and one modern.
ancient times the desire of the tyrant was to make sure that God is on his
side. The God of the Israelites was viewed as just one more god.
Therefore, those who believe in that God were required to offer prayers
and sacrifices in support of the King. We still do this today, as we pray
for those in authority over us. This reflects the Christian view that the
current government is of no real importance compared to the government of
modern times the demand is for "private religion."
This means that the Christian will in no way oppose the state, since
religion is purely private. It's what you do in your spare time. So it is
that our president can be touchingly sympathetic with those who cling to
their guns and religion. As long as your faith has no impact on the world,
you can believe whatever you want.
produces an inevitable conflict. Either the church or the state is the supreme
moral authority. If the state claims that role, then persecution of the church
is inevitable. As this conflict escalates, the state will eventually decide
that no means other than the death penalty will work. If you simply euthanize
the Christians, all your problems will be solved.
is one short test to know whether or not matters have come to such a pass. In
its classic formulation, it is this: is the king above the law?
seems that the three Hebrew children don't quite understand what they should be
answering for. You will first note that they do not engage in a protest march,
nor do we have any record of them objecting at all until the matter is brought
up. This has certain advantages.
such a process offers an opportunity for reconciliation. The child of God
is always a peacemaker.
a response involves no anger. This is almost always the right way to
handle the ruler’s anger.
important, it shows that these three understood that dying for the faith
is something which may be required. Indeed, it seems to be no big deal.
But it is an honor.
please, that one reason they did not need to bring the subject up was
simply that there is never a lack of accusers for the faithful.
do not need to give you an answer
seems a strange reply. But considered from the viewpoint of the faithful it is
relatively simple. These men know who is God. As such, since they are in
captivity, they are mentally prepared to die. It helps to know what your
purpose in life is. May I suggest that purpose does not include whining or
complaining or menial bargaining? In this instance, their purpose is actually
testimony. Be sure that a witness who is prepared to die for the faith is a
powerful witness indeed.
subject is not much preached upon these days. After all, the church in America
is comfortable, fat and happy. No one thinks they will be called upon to die
for the faith. But please do recall that your life on this planet is temporary;
you are one who is "just passing through." As such, martyrdom is
something which we may yet experience in America. Some of us will be honored
with this; the only question is who and when.
as we learn in Revelation, it is by the testimony of martyrdom that Satan is
overcome. As Tertullian said, the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.
We need to take our example from the ancient church; permit me a brief example.
Athanasius, writing over 200 years beyond the time of Christ, wrote this:
A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its
conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the
disciples of Christ despise death, they take the offensive against it and,
instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample
on it as something dead. Before the divine advent of the Savior, even the
holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish.
But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but
all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing and prefer to die
rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die
they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the
resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the
pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead. There is
proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death
horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely
that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the
Savior's resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men
only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has
death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as
a dead thing, robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who
has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot as
he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer
afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So
has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross.
It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as
witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, "O Death, where is thy
victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?"
De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, V-27)
might object to its somewhat sexist tone, but the point is clear. Real
Christians do not fear death because they know the one who has conquered it.
may appear that this passage has nothing to do with prophecy. But may I remind
you of the symbolic importance of fire in the old and new Testaments.
is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, as given at Pentecost.
is often the symbol of judgment, in particular the judgment of hell.
such, it is often associated with the destruction of the wicked.
you can see the symbolic importance of this passage. It clearly teaches us that
the righteous will be unharmed by the fires of hell. Indeed by the coming of
our Lord the righteous will be exalted. Many people do not like this type of
allegorical interpretation, but scholars of the Scriptures have used it for
thousands of years. It must be verified with other uses, but I think this one
argument may surprise you. Among the philosophical it has been argued that
hell, as described for example by Lazarus, cannot possibly exist. The reason is
very simple: fire consumes. If you place a human body in the fire, you get
ashes. Thus, it is argued that the Hell described in the parable of Lazarus and
the rich man cannot possibly exist for ever. Indeed, it can only exist for a
in answering this objection, pointed to this passage of scripture. In effect,
he said that if the three Hebrew children can be kept from the effects of the
fire, then so can the wicked indefinitely. It may seem an unusual problem, but
it has risen to give grief over the centuries.
most prominent prophetic problem raised in this chapter is of course just who
is the fourth person in the fire? In the King James version you will see the
statement that this is the son of God. Most of the modern translations use the
phrase "son of the gods." The Hebrew will support either
interpretation, and thus the modern translators take a more conservative view
of the original documents.
allegorical significance of the passage is clear. The more severe the trial,
the more visibly and palpably present is our Lord.
addition, we might take comfort from the fact that it is in the fiery furnace
that our Lord, or an angel from the Lord, is given to the three Hebrew
children. When the times of trial come, particularly when the lake of fire is
visible, our Lord will be there to see that no harm comes to us. Is it too much
of the stretch to see this as a picture of the end times?