don’t know if you ever played “King of the mountain,” but you would have if you had gone to school where I did. It always started when one of the older boys—usually it was Carl Johnson or one of his brothers—would jump on a box and yell: “Who’s king of the mountain?” That was a signal for the rest of us to run over and try to push him off so we could jump up and yell: “I’m the king now.” These encounters tended to be fairly short, because within about 45 seconds all of us would be wrestling around in a huge pile on the floor.1
I hadn’t thought about this old game for years, but the other day I was reading through Daniel 7 when “king of the mountain” came to mind. And with it came a clearer understanding of certain parts of the prophecy.
You probably remember, first Babylon the lion struts around as if to say: “I’m the greatest. My kingdom will last forever” (see verse 4). “That’s what you think!” growls Persia, the bear, and he comes rushing in to push Babylon out of the way so he can take over (verse 5). After that, Greece and Rome each have a turn (verses 6, 7). The last and worst of all is the little horn who grows out of the head of Rome. This one goes far beyond the others. He gets into such a frenzy that he actually thinks of himself as a rival to God and tries to eliminate anyone who doesn’t happen to agree (verses 8, 21, 25).
Now, as I say, this was the animals’ version of “king of the mountain,” but you can be sure Daniel didn’t feel amused as he watched. He knew about the cruelty of the Babylonian “lion” from personal experience. He must have been about 17 or 18 when Nebuchadnezzar carried him off to Babylon as a captive. After that there were two more invasions. Before it was over, thousands of people were dead, and the whole country was a wasteland.
By the time he had this vision, Daniel had been praying about the situation for nearly 60 years, but I am not sure that he felt happy or relieved by what he saw, because it must have been clear to him that the solution was still a long way off. Of course, there was good news too. When the power struggle was finally over, the peace would last forever.
Here is the good news part of the prophecy:
“I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened” (verses 9, 10).*
The message is that God Himself is going to intervene. But He is not going to fight the evil empires by sending in the army. He is not going to fight violence with violence, because evil cannot be stopped by more evil.2 Remember that the point they are struggling over is: Who is the real king? And what this prophecy tells us is that the issue is not going to be settled on the battlefield, but in a courtroom. God is going to set up a court of inquiry and make it clear to everyone who is the winner.
As soon as he saw this scene of judgment, Daniel must have thought about Yom Kippur, which we usually call the Day of Atonement, because for the Jewish people Yom Kippur was (and still is) judgment day.3
And the next part of the vision made this connection even clearer. It says that after “the court sat, and the books were opened,” a “Son of Man,” that is, a human being, came in to this glorious courtroom (verse 13). And Daniel would have remembered that on Yom Kippur—and only on Yom Kippur—a human being entered the symbolic throne room of the Hebrew sanctuary.
But What About the Little Horn?
In this case, however, if the judgment scene in Daniel 7 represents the cosmic Day of Atonement, there is a fundamental question we need to ask. The first part of the vision is about the power struggle of the little horn and the beasts. Every one of these at one time or another persecuted God’s people and fought against the truth. The question is: How could the judgment symbolized by Yom Kippur solve this problem? How could it set things straight and avenge the suffering of God’s people?
At first glance you would have to say that it couldn’t, because on the ancient Day of Atonement the evil nations that surrounded Israel did not come in and stand around the sanctuary. Only God’s people were judged.4 So we need to ask: How could the judgment solve the problem of the evil empires? This is clearly its intention, because the text says: “The court will sit for judgment, and his [the little horn’s] dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever” (verse 26).
What Did Happen on Yom Kippur?
On the ancient Day of Atonement everyone in Israel passed in judgment before God, but the people didn’t have to stand in line and then go into the sanctuary to be judged one by one. Instead, they all entered together in the person of a single human being—the high priest. We could say that the high priest was their proxy or stand-in. He not only went in for the people, but as the people. He was their representative in court, but not like a modern lawyer who argues and pleads, trying to convince the judge that his client is innocent. Rather, he took the people’s place, having assumed their identity, and with it their guilt.
I am emphasizing this point because it is a key to understanding what is happening in Daniel 7. Notice that the Son of Man does not come in and sit down as a judge. He enters after the court is already seated and after the record books are opened. Daniel says: “He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him” (verse 13). So He was escorted in; and rather than sitting down, He was made to stand before the throne.
Why was this “Son of Man” High Priest treated like a prisoner before the bar? Because, as the people’s substitute, He was counted as a sinner; for our sake He went into court as a defendant, as if He Himself were on trial.
The good news—in fact, it’s the best news that could ever be told—is that the Son of Man does not go in empty-handed. He goes in having paid the price for sin. By a blood sacrifice He has obtained a full pardon for the sins He is bearing.
We talk about justification by faith. The Yom Kippur ceremony stands at the very heart of it. We talk about the gospel. The word “gospel” means good news, and what news could be better than this, that Jesus Christ, having taken our place on the cross, has earned the right to take our place in the judgment (Heb. 9:11, 12)?
How Is This Related to the Problem of the Evil Empires?
Once when some people doubted His authority, Jesus said: “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6). The little horn, representing the state-church of the Middle Ages, laid claim to this power, boasting it had the authority to forgive sins. In doing this, it was claiming ultimate power, that is, sanctuary power (see Dan. 8:11, 12). In this it went far beyond the claims of any of its power-grabbing predecessors. By dealing with sin in the judgment, Jesus answers this bold claim and shows who is the real king.
The evil empires weren’t accused and placed on trial. There was no need to bring them into judgment, because their cases were never really in doubt. The issue to be resolved is not whether they are evil. The issue is: Who is the real king? And the sentence pronounced on the Son of Man in the judgment is the perfect answer to this question.
Here it is: “And to Him [the Son of Man] was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).
The little horn and his friends are not called in and judged at this time, but the judgment does take care of the problem they represent. Jesus told a story that explains how this works. He said there was “a man of noble birth” (NIV) who “went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. . . . But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ . . . When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, . . . [he said:] ‘these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence’” (Luke 19:12-27).
The “man of noble birth,” of course, was Jesus Himself, who went to a “distant country” when He returned to heaven. The prophecy of Daniel 7 shows us how He “receives a kingdom for himself.” He receives it through the judgment. After the Son of Man has received His kingdom, the same cloudy chariot that took Him in to the judgment will carry Him to the earth to claim the fruits of His victory (Mark 13:26; 14:62). Then He will say: “These enemies of mine—the lion, the bear, the little horn, and all the rest—bring them here and slay them in My presence.”
When Jesus enters the sanctuary and gets the victory, He is declared the real king—not of some childish mountain or empire, of course, but King of the universe and King of the ages, for He is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). And His “kingdom . . . will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).
When this takes place, only one step is left in the great sanctuary drama. The next verse of the prophecy says: “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One” (Dan. 7:27).
But wait! This is almost word for word the same sentence that was passed on the Son of Man in the judgment, the one we read about in verse 14. Yes, of course it is. Remember that He went into the judgment as the people, taking their place. Therefore, the victory He obtained was for them, and the sentence passed on Him was passed on them.
Praise God! Because the very last words of the prophecy remind us once again that the real King will be forever: “His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (verse 27).
I think Daniel would have liked hymn number 619 (in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal), don’t you? It’s the one that says: “Lead on, O King eternal, we follow, not with fears.” If you want to stand up and sing it now, that’s OK. But if you’re like me, and not much given to singing in public, then sing it anyway in your heart, because the time is almost here.
*All scriptural references, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1 My opinion is that this is not exactly the most intelligent game ever invented. But then, you’ve got to take into account that I’m not 14 years old anymore either. That may have something to do with it.
2 See also Romans 12:19-21 and Matthew 5:38-48. When do you think the Israelis and the Palestinians are going to figure this out?
3 The following is from a contemporary Jewish writer: “Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. . . . [There are] ‘books’ in which God inscribes all our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends” (“Judaism 101” at www.jewfaq
.org/holiday4/htm, accessed Aug. 26, 2000). From ancient times the rabbis understood that the judgment of Yom Kippur was a reflection of what went on in the sanctuary of heaven (Talmud, Yoma 7:2; see also Jacob Milgrom, The Anchor Bible: Leviticus 1-16 [New York: Doubleday, 1991], pp. 1016, 1017).
4 Lev. 16:16: “He [the high priest] shall make atonement . . . because of the impurities of the sons of Israel.”
Loron Wade is retired and living in Montemorelos, Nuevo León, Mexico. He continues with limited teaching assignments and as editor of Perspectives Teológicas, a journal published by the theology faculty of Montemorelos University.