“… who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love”(Colossians 1:13).
IF we want to know anything about kings and kingdoms, there is one book in the Old Testament which is full of those words, and that is the Book of Daniel. There are a number of chapters in that book which are narrative and tell us what happened, and it is about those chapters, particularly chapters two to six, we shall be speaking. They cover a lot of ground; and if you will read them over again you will find, I believe, that they are all connected.
THE EARTHLY KINGDOM AND THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM
Chapter 2 brings before us in a graphic way that of which the verse in Colossians reminds us: there are only two kingdoms. You remember that Daniel and his friends prayed, and God gave revelation in answer to that prayer. That revelation was that there is an earthly kingdom — the image of various metals — and that there is a heavenly kingdom. I expect Nebuchadnezzar felt rather pleased to find himself in the centre of the vision — “Thou art the head of gold” — but has it ever occurred to you that Daniel and his three friends saw where they were in that vision? They were not in the image, for God has delivered us from that dominion — and what a dominion it is! Do not become too interested in the different kingdoms on the earth and what they represent, for you may lose sight of the fact that there is only one kingdom. The nations may come and go, the metals may change, but there is only one kingdom. Daniel and his friends may have prayed that the Lord would remove Nebuchadnezzar, but if He had done so, the kingdom would go on — and how we have found that, even in our day! One tyranny departs only to make way for another. There is really only one kingdom — the Colossus of man’s making fixed upon the earth, and one day to be destroyed. You notice that when the last expression of the kingdom is destroyed, then, and not till then, the whole image will fall, for it stands as one — and God has delivered us from that!
Then there is another kingdom. Nothing much is said about it; nothing of the appearance, the constitution, the shape, the form and the expression of it, as there is in the case of the earthly kingdom. It cannot be described, for it is heavenly. All that can be said is that it comes out of a mountain and — the most important thing — man never made it: “Made without hands.” The God of heaven has a kingdom in preparation which is hidden from view now. So far as earthly grandeur, size, dimension and appearance are concerned it is nothing to be compared with the earthly kingdom, but one day it is to be revealed as God’s answer — the kingdom of His dear Son. And Daniel and his friends realized that they belonged to that kingdom, and Colossians 1:13 tells us that we are to realize that we do not belong to the one kingdom, but to that other.
Of course, this does not mean that Daniel and his friends had nothing to do with anyone or anything in Babylon, for they did. They had names given them, and you will see that they were called by those Babylonish names, but when Daniel and his friends got together to pray, they did not call one another Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; they used their real names. There was a fellowship of life that belonged to the other world, the world of their birth and of God’s purpose. But they bore these Babylonish names apparently without protest and answered to them. They lived and worked in [10/11] Babylon and to the outward eye they appeared to have a part in the ordinary life. Take note of that, for the real difference is not outward, but inward.
THE RESULT OF REPUDIATING THE EARTHLY KINGDOM
So, when we come into chapter 3, we find that though Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego worked and lived in Babylon, when it came to a spiritual issue they were men who had no heart relationship at all with that other kingdom. And what happened to them? That is the development of the story! What does happen if we repudiate and refuse this kingdom of darkness, not in some outward way but in an inward heart attitude? Well, you know that in chapter 3 we have the story of the fiery furnace, heated “seven times more than it was wont to be heated”. “He hath delivered us from the kingdom of darkness” — but as soon as we, in a really living way, take up our place in this world as those who are delivered from the kingdom of darkness, we shall find that kingdom of darkness challenging us. No one is permitted to live in Babylon and in heart be separate from Babylon without knowing the spiritual strength of evil which is behind Babylon. And let me say in passing, and by the way, that of the various nations and cities in the Bible that speak of the power of the god of this world, Babylon is one which speaks of the world from a religious point of view.
However, that is the issue. “Delivered from the kingdom of darkness” sounds beautiful when we sing it in a hymn, and it is nice when we have a vision of what is the glorious end of that other kingdom, but we are in a fools’ paradise if we think we are going on singing about it, studying it and talking about it until it comes. No! We are going to be faced immediately with the challenge as to our own heart separation from this thing, and the furnace will be heated seven times. Perhaps that explains some of our experiences for which there is no other explanation. Why is the furnace heated seven times? Because in a new way, by His grace, we have laid hold of the fact that He has delivered us from this dominion of darkness. It does not sound like deliverance, but it is Satan’s reaction to our position of faith about our deliverance.
Is there an alternative? Is there not another way? Yes, there is another way, and if we go on into Daniel 4 we will find that other way, for this chapter is about the man who was not delivered — indeed, he was bound up with the earthly kingdom. It is a long chapter, and is the story of the man who did the opposite of what these three men did. They repudiated Babylon. He gloried in it. They were put into the fiery furnace. He was the emperor on the throne — but was he? Not for long! God challenged him. The three men were challenged by the devil, but Nebuchadnezzar was challenged by God. The three men had the fiery furnace heated seven times. Nebuchadnezzar, you will notice if you read this chapter, had God’s judgments on him seven times. There is the alternative. But now, while for the moment we feel that the position of the three men in the fiery furnace is a dreadful one and that it is a hard way to repudiate the spirit of this world, when we read Chapter 4 we find that there is a harder way, for, while we may come up against the devil if we are true to God, we come up against God if we have any real heart relationship and affiliation with the kingdom of this world. God seems to have loved Nebuchadnezzar. He took pains with him, and in His mercy the king was not destroyed but was brought to his senses; but it is a very bitter, painful, humiliating experience to be brought to our senses by God.
There are only two kingdoms, but those two kingdoms are very real. We have the stark alternatives, the extremes, in chapters 3 and 4: the extreme of those who are true to God — for them it is the fiery furnace — and the extreme of the man whose heart has the spirit of Babylon, and he is brought low seven times by the mighty hand of God. Those are extremes, but they are put for us in that extreme form so that we may appreciate the principle, and the principle is this: to belong to the one kingdom is to meet the devil, but to belong to the other is to meet the Lord.
Well, we will come back to the young men in the fiery furnace, and we find that they are all right, after all. Indeed, it was the most wonderful experience of their lives. They were not burned, but were brought through, for they had the blessed, living Son of God with them in their trial.
So we see that the vision of the heavenly kingdom always brings its challenge, but if we will stand firm and say, as they did: ‘He has delivered us from this dominion and what happens to us is His concern, not ours’, the Lord will take that stand with us.
On the one hand, then, there is a man taking the easy way — but God is against him. On the other hand there are three men being true to their vision and taking the hard way, and though it means a fiery furnace, God is with them. [11/12]
HOLDING FAST THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM
Now we have chapters v and vi of Daniel. Of course, when the events in chapter vi took place it was very many years after the vision had been received. Daniel was an old man now, but the challenge goes on all through the years. The vision must be adhered to right to the end, and this time the issue is not so much whether Daniel will repudiate Babylon, the kingdom of this earth, but whether he will hold fast to the heavenly kingdom. The expression of that heavenly kingdom, as he knew it, was Jerusalem; and there is always an expression here on earth of the heavenly kingdom. The Lord will always bring our vision down to terms of practical matters — things, places and people. Daniel is not left saying all through his life: ‘I live in Babylon but I do not belong there. One day I shall go to the kingdom that I belong to somewhere in the heavens, somewhere in the skies.’ No, he has brought to him the challenge of the earthly expression of that heavenly kingdom, and the question of whether he will be true to his vision, even if the lions’ den is the alternative. Daniel had his windows opened to Jerusalem. He took no notice of the great image and had no heart for Babylon. He looked only at the heavenly kingdom, and all his heart was for God. ‘Well,’ said the devil, ‘we will see. The lions’ den for you if you take that position!’
HOLDING FAST THE EARTHLY KINGDOM
Let us leave Daniel in the lions’ den for a moment and go back to chapter v — the story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall. He did the opposite thing to Daniel, just as Nebuchadnezzar had done the opposite from the three young men. They repudiated the image; Nebuchadnezzar embraced it. Daniel loved the holy things of God; Belshazzar despised them. I would suppose that the Lord somehow or other — in a manner of speaking — gets used to men’s sinfulness, for he did not judge Belshazzar because of the drunkenness, the foulness, the debauchery and the horrible atmosphere of his court. At that time all that did not bring out God’s judgment, though it will do one day; but there was one thing that did bring out His judgments, and swiftly. There were holy vessels that belonged to the house of God in Babylon, and in the midst of all the riot and feasting Belshazzar, in his drunken insolence, called for those holy vessels, despising what was of God. We know what happened — the hand that wrote upon the wall the sentence: “Weighed in the balances and found wanting — thy kingdom taken from thee.”
Once again let me say that though it is hard to be Daniel holding to the heavenly vision and facing the lions’ den, it is not easier to take the opposite course and despise the heavenly Jerusalem.
Here again, you say, it is an extreme case. Yes, these are all extreme cases, but we have to apply to ourselves the issue in whatever degree it may come to us. We may not be as proud as Nebuchadnezzar, but if we have the pride of Nebuchadnezzar in our hearts, God will have to meet it and humble it. We may not be as dissolute as Belshazzar, but if, having known something of the heavenly kingdom of the Son of God’s love into which He has called us, we regard that as a small thing, if we push that away into a corner of our lives, if we allow the things of earth, the praise of men, the interests of this life, to crowd that out, we are doing in essence what Belshazzar did — defiling the holy things of God. And the writing on the wall says: ‘That is how you lose the kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar, thy kingdom is taken from thee. Belshazzar, weighed in the balances and found wanting, thy kingdom is taken from thee.’
DELIVERANCE FROM THE EARTHLY KINGDOM
We come back to Daniel in the lions’ den and find that the lions did not eat him after all. The Lord was with him. ‘He hath delivered us from the dominion of darkness’, and that does not only mean when we are walking on the streets of Babylon. It means, thank God! that when we are in the fiery furnace we are still delivered, because it is not merely a deliverance from, but a deliverance unto — “translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love”. Thus Daniel and his friends can not only take the kingdom into Babylon, but they can take the kingdom into the fiery furnace and quench it by the presence of the Lord. And they are delivered even in the lions’ den, sharing in the heavenly kingdom even there.
THE ISSUE: SHARING IN THE GLORY OF HIS APPEARING
We have, then, five chapters of the Book of Daniel, and each chapter brings a picture with a spiritual principle in it. They are governed by chapter 2 — a picture of the two kingdoms — and then tell us of what happened in ordinary, practical life to men, who were just as we are, in relation to those two kingdoms. Two of the men failed to appreciate the true implication of these things. In [12/13] two cases, with the other four, the revelation that had come to them transformed their whole lives. They did not only think about it, or talk about it. When it came to practical matters, they lived it and, what is more, when the devil sought to quench them, they proved it. What greater proof of the kingdom of heaven in power is there than that experience of the men in the fiery furnace? That is not what we think of when we read Colossians 1:13! We think of the issue when we are brought out and put on the Throne. That is a nice kingdom! We never think that it will be a fiery furnace heated seven times.
The devil says to you: ‘It is all wrong! Everything is wrong! That vision did not mean anything.’ God says to you: ‘Keep steady! I am with you.’ That is the kingdom when it is in Babylon. That is how it works: when you are in the lions’ den you are not alone. When I was a boy I used to sing:
“Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone.”
I have no doubt that Daniel felt alone, but he did not stand alone. God sent an angel, but the Lord will do better than an angel for you — He will be with you Himself.
So let us take courage! The issues of these two kingdoms are fierce, and constant, and will go on right through to the end, but if we will stand firm we shall see, not only our deliverance from the kingdom of this world, but its overthrow; we shall not only see the prospect of the coming of the kingdom, but we shall share in the glory of His appearing.
“He hath delivered us” — let us be sure of it!
“He hath translated us” — let us give God thanks for it! – H. F.