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Inheritance of the Saints
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
All Saints’ Sunday
Rev. Randy L Quinn

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me.

I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever--forever and ever."
Dan. 7:1-3, 15-18

I don’t remember when it was or where I came across it, but I remember reading about – or hearing about – a study paid for by advertisers. As I remember it, they found a noticeable difference in what people see in a picture. In a nutshell, most of us see the foreground, not the background; a minority of people see the background, not the foreground.

As I said, I don’t remember the details of what I heard, but I remember parts of it every time I see those commercials with the picture that moves from the foreground to the background and then back again. There are several of them that play with our eyes. Look at this one as an example:


This video is a TV commercial that was popular a few years ago for HP digital photography.

Did you see how people move from the foreground to the background and pictures in the background move people to the foreground? Some of us prefer one over the other, and advertisers have found a way to appeal to both.

Anyone who has ever sat down to read the book of Daniel notices similar kinds of change taking place in chapter 7. Prior to this, Daniel is in the background, the “go to guy” whenever anyone has trouble interpreting a dream. One time the king has a dream, but refuses to tell people what the dream is – and threatens to put all of his advisors to death if they can’t tell him what the dream was and what it means (Dan. 2). The king’s sage advisors seek Daniel’s assistance. Like pulling a picture off the screen in the commercial, Daniel tells the king what the dream was as well as what it means.

All through the first six chapters of this book, Daniel is spoken about. He has been in the background.

In our text today, he moves to the foreground, a place where he will stay for the remainder of the book. He also begins to speak – not to the King, but – to us. He tells us what he has seen in his own dream and what it means for whoever takes the time to read his story.

And while we notice the shift taking place, there is also a sense in which the second part of the book is actually retelling what has been said up to this point in the story. The same message is conveyed using an entirely different method of telling it. A different “media,” if you will; Daniel does what modern advertisers do in order to appeal to a different audience.

Rather than using the narrative story, we are now invited in to see vivid apocalyptic images. Rather than the memorable images of Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Dan. 6) or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3), we now watch as beasts appear and battles are fought. In both parts of the book there are heroes and villains. But the portrayal of monsters in the latter half of the book is more frightening than any Halloween movie Hollywood ever produced; it is so frightening that Daniel is troubled by it (Dan. 7:15). (That’s a good enough reason for us not to read many of the details of the dream this morning.)

The style of literature Daniel uses in the second half of his book is referred to as Apocalyptic, the same genre as the Book of Revelation. It is filled with powerful, symbolic images intended to offer hope to people who are persecuted – images that don’t seem too hope-filled to those of us who are reading them in today’s world.

But at the time of Daniel’s dream, the people are persecuted and looking for relief. They have returned to the Promised Land, but are now suffering under the rule of the Hasmonean Monarchy, a time that looked promising as it began but has now become difficult. And since Daniel cannot directly address the rulers without retribution, he tells the dreams and stories in the setting of Babylon.

Rather than retelling the whole story this morning, however, let me simply ‘cut to the chase.’ The heroes in Daniel’s dream are the ‘holy ones of the Most High,’ a phrase that is sometimes translated as the ‘saints of the Most High’ (Dan. 7:18)1.

They are the ones who remain faithful, even in difficult times. They are the ones who triumph in the end. In other words, Daniel is encouraging people to hang on to their faith – especially when it looks like God’s people are being trampled. They can look toward the future with hope, knowing that God will have the final say and the faithful will eventually inherit the Kingdom.

Ever since the days of the early church, Christians have also heard in Daniel’s dream a promise of eternal life for those of us who claim the name of Christ.

And there may not be a more hope-filled promise to cling to on All Saints’ Sunday. For today we are remembering those who have preceded us into the heavenly realm in the past year. They have inherited the kingdom and will possess it forever and ever (Dan. 7:18). And as I suggested last Sunday, today we will put an exclamation point on their funeral services.

We do that by acknowledging that each was created in the image of God, each was loved unconditionally by God, and each taught us something of the nature of God in the way they lived – whether they knew it or not. We are not suggesting they were perfect. We are simply holding open the possibility that they now see him as he is and have become like him (1 Jn. 3:2). They are now perfected by God’s grace and have joined the heavenly hosts who gather to worship God.

The author of Hebrews has suggested that they are like a cloud of witnesses who stand between us and God, between our earthly worship of God today and the heavenly throne of grace (Heb. 12:1).

They are like “Icons” who point to the faithfulness of God in their life and in their death. So today, we will hold a roll call. We will call out a name. And if we do not see them in the pews with us, we will light a candle in remembrance of their life and answer in faith that they are “present” – present with God if not with us.

In doing so, we are claiming the promise that Daniel offers to the people of Israel, the promise that the difficulties of this life will be overcome in the next. We are claiming the victory that belongs to God as we wait for Christ to appear and take us home with them.

What a glorious vision, what a glorious promise, what a glorious hope!

Thanks be to God. Amen.