Daniel 3 records the remarkable faith and courage of three covenant young people. These three, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, trusting Jehovah God, are not afraid of the king’s wrath. These three have a fear of God that is greater than their fear of man. These three stand out and stand alone over against a godless and anti-Christian culture. Let’s pray that our consideration of their faith will be spiritually beneficial for us in a similar day.
Ungodly Babylon and its king Nebuchadnezzar are representative in Scripture of the future kingdom of the Antichrist which will be opposed to the church of Jesus Christ and all true Christianity. The three friends of Daniel came to be in Babylon because of the sin of Judah in worshiping the gods of the Canaanites. Selected to live as princes in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, they were being groomed to take the culture and religion of Babylon back to their own people, and to help Nebuchadnezzar in establishing a universal state religion in which he would be the god.
This is what is happening in Daniel 3.
Nebuchadnezzar, having received and understood the vision of the image with its different parts, and understanding that he is represented by the bust of gold in that image, now sets up an image of gold, 90 feet (30 meters) tall, to represent himself. He then gathers all the important men of his kingdom (princes, governors, treasurers, captains, judges, counsellors, sheriffs and rulers) from all the parts of his kingdom to dedicate this image, and to establish himself as the “god” of the new state religion. Those who refuse to worship him face immediate death in the fiery furnace. In a similar way, the Antichrist will come and set himself up as god who must be worshiped, with the threat that all who do now bow to and worship him will be persecuted and killed (Read 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13).
Under immense pressure, even the threat of death, these three covenant youth confess and stand strong in their faith. Their stand represents “the patience (or perseverance) and faith of the saints” in the day of Antichrist (Rev. 13:10b, 14:12).
Let’s imagine the pressures they experienced. These were men who in their grooming had received immense privileges and prosperity and had already been promoted in the kingdom. What a privilege, from a political perspective, to be invited to this important event for the honouring of the emperor. Not only do they face the prospect of losing all this, but there is a death threat issued and a furnace close by for the non-conformist.
Besides, all their peers – the crowd in front of them, behind them, and stretching out both to the right and the left – are bowing down, perhaps even some of their own countrymen from Judah. Why would one want to stand out? The pressures include a peer-pressure, the loss of prestige and prosperity, the threat of persecution and death. These all are the pressures we face in an anti-Christian world, and that we will face increasingly as the end draws nearer.
How easy it would be to bow down to the image, without having your heart in that act, and to rationalize such behavior. “An idol is nothing, right?” “This is merely a political act. In bowing to the image, are we not honouring the god-appointed authority?” Or, “What good is it to remain standing? We’ll be misunderstood and perceived as strange, anyway.”
It is characteristic of the apostatizing church and the weak believer to make such excuses. The argument is that we have to be as much like the world as we can be in order that they might understand us. When we think that way, we go along with the world, we remain silent over against blasphemy, we make ourselves, our goals, and our lives look as much like the world as we can. And, all the while, we become weaker and weaker in our stand. That’s true also for the church when she caters to the sensitivities and desires of the culture in order to avoid the appearance of being “odd”.
The “patience and faith of the saints” is that they, by God’s grace, stand out and speak out against a godless and anti-Christian world, knowing full well the consequences. This is what these three did in their refusal to bow and in their answer to the king. Recognizing that Nebuchadnezzar’s demand was not merely political but religious, they refused. In that refusal, they made a clear statement to all. Compromise or a mixed message never brings a true witness of God. They saw, not only that the worship of an image is disobedience to God’s law, but that Nebuchadnezzar in demanding the image to be worshiped was usurping the place of God for himself (v. 5, 12b). The king himself understands that they believe that their God is greater and more powerful than any man, able to deliver them out of his hands (v. 15). They know, also the consequences. Immediately they are despised by the other nobles who, wanting to gain favor with the king, “accused them” to the king (v. 8). They understood also the consequence of death, and though they put their faith in God, they did not know for sure that God would deliver them from the fire (vv. 17-18).
We ask, “What explains their resolve?” and “Would I have such resolve?” Four observations are worthy of our consideration here.
First, their resolve and their stand here was built on their earlier resolve, in chapter 1, not to eat the king’s meat. In what was a smaller issue, which they could have also rationalized away, they obeyed God’s dietary laws and maintained their holiness. Will you be able to stand in the day of Antichrist’s persecution? That’s really the wrong question. The question is, Are you standing today against temptation?
Second, in their resolve, they stood together. God, wonderfully and providentially, gave them each other for strength and support in the hour of temptation and persecution. We are not called, as Christians, to stand in solitude outside of the communion of the saints, but we are called by Christ into the solidarity of his body, the church, and with others we stand. This is the point of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:12b, “for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”. Even when in our experience we stand alone, we are never alone, but stand in solidarity and identity with the people of God from all ages and all places of the earth. This is the beauty of believing that the church is “universal”.
Third, and most importantly, their confession and stand before the king comes from the work of the Holy Spirit of God. In Hebrews 11 we read of these three, that “by faith they quenched the violence of fire”. Faith is always the result of the work of God’s Spirit, and is the gift of God to His elect (Act. 13:48; Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). Just as God was with them later in the fiery furnace, so He was already with them by His Spirit in the loneliness of their confession. We are never alone!
And fourth, their boldness of faith is to be explained also from the content of their confession. Their distinctive confession is that their God is the Sovereign of heaven and earth. They say, “Our God is able to deliver us out of the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king” (vv. 17-18). He “is able”, that is, he is Almighty. “His power is greater than yours, O king. What you do cannot over rule what He does. What you demand, O king, we can in know way follow, for it is against the command of the Sovereign God.” The sovereignty of God is his absolute power as well as his right to rule over all. Confessing this, they were able to withstand the pressures of the typical anti-Christ. Remember, when the Antichrist comes, his power will be limited by the sovereign power of King Jesus (2 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 13:5, 7 – “given unto him…”).
In the end, this is the confession that will, by God’s grace, sustain us in the face of persecution. Who is on the throne? Believing that God is on the throne, they said, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter,” that is, “we are not anxious or full of cares as we answer”. They are saying to the king, “We do not need to reconsider our position, we are sure in our confession, because we trust that our God is sovereign.” They did not know God’s will, whether He would deliver them from the flames or no, but they did know His power and were confident that He would be with them.
And He was!
In a remarkable and special way, in the presence of the typical Antichrist, Christ Himself came and stood with them in the fiery furnace. This was the “fourth man” in the furnace. A Christophany. “The Angel of Jehovah” came and was with them. The ropes melted away from their hands, but not a hair of their head is singed, nor even the smell of smoke on their clothing. In the fire, they are seen, unharmed, walking, and “Christ in the midst of them”. He sees their suffering and He comes to them, according to His own promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
And the cause of God is vindicated. All the glory goes to God through this. This is God’s purpose with all of history, including the coming day of Antichrist and the great tribulation. God will be vindicated in the end. The challenge here is not against these three who will not bow to the king, but the challenge of Nebuchadnezzar is against God Himself. Ultimately, he is forced to confess that Jehovah alone is the true God. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows (Luk. 12:4-7).
Written by: Rev. Rodney Kleyn | Issue 46