Willingly Facing Persecution

(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)

Daniel 3

burning_churchIn Daniel 3 we see that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, immediately sets up a 90 foot golden image of himself and demands that it be worshipped by his entire kingdom. The motivation for this is seen previously in chapter 2. In the second chapter Daniel interprets one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams that none other of the “magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” could interpret. Nebuchadnezzar was going to have them killed until they sought the help of Daniel, who interpreted his dream, and was in turn made “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.”

Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a statue that was made of different material, and of a stone that was carved out of a mountain and thrown into the statue’s legs, shattering it to pieces. Of this dream Daniel said that “The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel interpreted the dream, saying that the division of materials that made up the statue were kingdoms that would rise and fall in the world, starting with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon as the head of gold. At the end, the last kingdom (Rome) would be shattered by a rock that would grow into a mountain which represents the Kingdom of God.

Nebuchadnezzar’s very next move in chapter 3 is to build a statue, not unlike the one in his dream, made entirely of gold. Basically he was saying that his kingdom would have no end since the statue in his dream showed that the golden head representing Babylon would be succeeded by the nation represented by the chest of silver (Persia); moreover, all of these kingdoms were shown to be succeeded by the never ending Kingdom of God represented by the rock turning into a mountain.

The golden image bears striking resemblance to the image of the beast in Revelation 13. In fact, since most of the book of Revelation derives its imagery from Old Testament allusions, it is likely that this golden image here in Daniel is the inspiration for John’s writing of the image of the beast in Revelation. In so doing John was saying that the image of the beast in Revelation 13 bears similarities in meaning and function as the golden image here in Daniel 3. We will delve into Revelation in a few weeks, and more will be said about this then.

Apparently many of the Jews did not bow down to the golden statue when Nebuchadnezzar commanded, and rightly so. Because of this 3:8 says that “at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews.” These are the same Chaldeans of chapter 2 who were almost wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar along with the other wise men for not being able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel asked for the promotion of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and it seems as though the Chaldeans may have been jealous of them, accusing them “maliciously.” They are brought before Nebuchadnezzar, who asks: “is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?…But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

And in one of my favorite parts of the Bible Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to Nebuchadnezzar: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, BE IT KNOWN TO YOU, O KING, THAT WE WILL NOT SERVE YOUR GODS OR WORSHIP THE GOLDEN IMAGE THAT YOU HAVE SET UP.”

Nebuchadnezzar got his answer when he threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace to be burned alive. To his shock he saw a fourth person walking around with them alive and untied whose appearance “is like a son of the gods.” He calls the three out of the furnace as he and all of his government leaders gather around to see that not even the smell of smoke was on them as they exited. The king responded by saying in 3:28: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

In 2:5 Nebuchadnezzar said that if the Chaldeans could not interpret his dream that they would “be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins.” Now here in 3:29, as a result of seeing the Lord deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the king says: “Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”

The book of Daniel (and also Revelation) shows that the Lord can break into even the darkest of situations. Even in the height of the rule of a world power that is inherently anti-God (or anti-Christ) God can turn the tables in an instant and cause Himself to be made known (and even promoted) to a Godless place and people. The necessary ingredient of this is the willingness of God’s people to be persecuted, and to face whatever opposition that comes, standing firm in absolute obedience to who God is. Opposition from the world is inevitable; they hate Christ. Jesus reiterates this in many verses in the New Testament:

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
Matthew 10:22 “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Matthew 24:9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

In the beginning of the church the Kingdom of God (the rock which became a mountain in Daniel 2) was spread throughout the Roman Empire (and beyond) in spite of the persecution that rose against it. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego persecution served to promote the Lord and His ways in the kingdom of Babylon. In the same way the persecution of the saints in the history of the church has served to promote the gospel in a variety of ways. In places of extreme darkness extreme persecution is needed in order for the gospel to be spread. When missionaries began to go to Africa they would many times send their belongings over in a casket because they knew that they would probably die, and that was how they were coming home. The gospel could not spread there without the willingness to face persecution. The same is true of European ancestors.

If we, in this present darkness, are not willing to face persecution for what we believe, then we will dumb down who Christ is and the gospel will not be brought to the doorstep of the world. The Bible is filled with people who had to make the decision to stand up for God or allow the enemy to win. We are in a fight, an extremely vicious fight in this life. In the western world we do not necessarily face the possibility of being thrown into a fiery furnace because we do not bow down to the gods of this age; but we do face opposition. The more we try and exalt Christ and refuse the ways of the world the more we will see opposition from the world. If we are not willing to stand up and be wiling to charge through it with the grace of God on our side then we will snuff out the light of Christ. And we are the light of the world. How will the world know Christ unless we lead the charge and carry the torch of Christ to the world?

So the challenge that I leave with you today is to be bold. Pray that the Lord would give you a heart to stand up for Him and to show Him to the world. Right where you are in life is a perfect place to start. Allow the Lord to pour His light in whatever situation you are in; shine it and do not hide it. Pray for His boldness. When the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles in Acts 2 one of the identifying markers of the church was boldness. Let’s take up our cross and die daily; and if necessary, die. And in so doing bring the Kingdom of God to the world.

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