Matthew Introduction Part 2 - Daniel 2:31-49

Last Lord’s Day we heard that Matthew’s book is the writing down, by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, of the proclamation of God, which is concerning His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  With the reading of portions of Psalm two, we also heard that the nations gathered together to cut off the son of God.  But God laughed.  For the decree had been issued – God had set His King upon His Holy Mountain, Zion.

It had been prophesied, by all the prophets of old, that a King would sit on the throne of David, and that His Kingdom would be an everlasting Kingdom, and that the nations would pay homage to Him in obedience.

Matthew’s focus is God’s King – the Messiah promised of old, Who would sit in the seat foreshadowed by David, Who demonstrated power and dominion, Who rose again from the dead, and Who is the fullness of all the Law and the prophets.

In the passage we just read from Daniel, we find the interpretation of one dream in which God summarizes all of history from the time of the Babylonian exile to the setting up of the Kingdom of Christ.  From the glory of world dominion by Babylon – the first Kingdom of Daniel’s interpretation, to the Medo-Persian empire of Darius and Cyrus – Daniel’s second kingdom, to the Hellenizing of the known world by the Greek empire begun by Alexander the Great – Daniel’s third kingdom, to the Roman conquest of the world before the birth of Christ – Daniel’s fourth kingdom, to the enthronement of the Son of God with Power upon His everlasting throne – Daniel’s fifth and eternal kingdom.

At that point, never again would there be world dominion by one king, for the nations of the world were scattered and separated – for there can only be ONE world ruler, which is Christ.  All pretenders to world dominion will be opposed and smashed, for the true King will suffer no opposition.  Never again will there be a Persian king of the world – or a Greek king – or a Roman king.  Never again will the world be Hellenized.  Or Romanized.  For world dominion is for the fifth Kingdom.  The world is being Christianized.  It is a world-wide Kingdom, and it is promised that nations and tongues and peoples and tribes and families will come under the influence and domination of the Rock that broke and scattered the fourth kingdom.

And the Church is built upon that Rock.  The confession that Jesus Christ is Lord

to the glory of God the Father brings men under Christ’s rulership.  Simon’s confession caused him to be renamed Petros – rock.  The Church is built upon the Rock – which is Christ – Who shatters and scatters the nations, and brings them under Kingdom mandates.  At the preaching of this gospel men and women and children are brought into submission to the King, and they are baptized and brought to the table to eat of the body and blood of the King ,Who sacrificed His body and shed His blood that they might be set free to worship Him.

And, according to Daniel, Christ came at the appointed time – a particular time in history – to die for the world and establish His Kingdom.  He brought it and it is His.  And in order to understand His coming, and to understand His Words, and to understand His actions, we have to investigate “that appointed time.”  Why was the incarnation of the Son of God said to have occurred in “the fullness of time?”

We are certainly not going to answer those questions fully.  But we must approach them.  We have to invest some time in it, or we won’t be able to grasp all that God has given us in His Gospel.

And as we survey now, the political events leading up to the time of Christ, the principle to watch for is this:  the farther an individual, or a family, or an institution, or a nation, gets from God’s Holy Law-Word, the fullness of which is Christ Jesus the Lord, the more sinful and chaotic things become.  And, in Israel’s case, it had nationally disobeyed God’s Law and had forgotten the Word Himself – the coming Messiah of God – the Lord Jesus Christ.  God had sent prophet after prophet to Israel, and they had killed them and consigned them to the status of maniacs.

From the end of King Solomon’s reign to the exile in Babylon, there was a steady decline, with some exceptions, into sin and degradation.  First and foremost, worship of the One True God had become ritualistic.  In other words, the ceremonies of worship and the observance of the Law had become an end in themselves rather than pointing to and foreshadowing the coming Anointed One of God, the Savior of the world.

And every time worship is perverted the lusts of the flesh come to the surface as if by magic.  God had called Israel His Son, and Israel had prostituted itself with other nations in unholy alliances and idolatry.  It’s kings and priests became idolaters rather than protecting true worship.  Injustices were heaped up against widows, orphans and other weaker citizens.  Men robbed God of His tithe.  And the Sabbath had been desecrated so badly that the primary reason given for the exile of 70 years in Babylon was said to be so that the land of God’s people could get the rest from which it had been deprived.

And in 586 .C God called a strong nation from the East to defeat Israel and to move its people out of the land.  Everybody except the dregs of society were forced into exile in Babylon.  The walls of Jerusalem were leveled, the city razed and the temple destroyed.  And several millions of people were taken into captivity and enslaved.

And, while in captivity, and before the end of the century, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire was taken over by the Medes and Persians – an area of the world, which is today called Iran.  Darius the Mede and his successor in the Medo-Persian empire ruled most of the known world.  And they both loved Daniel the prophet.  Through their love for him and their admiration for the monotheistic people of Israel, the Jews were returned to Israel by Cyrus’ grandson Cyrus the Great.  All the ornaments and vessels of the temple were returned and the temple was ordered rebuilt.  The walls of Jerusalem were restored by about 480 BC, and temple worship reinstituted.

Even though Ezra and Nehemiah restored covenantal worship to some degree, and were great men of God, the nation continued its decline and wasn’t the light of the world in its foreshadowing of the Son of God.  The Persian empire continued to rule for almost another century and a half.  And Israel paid tribute and was in subjection to that government.  God’s people were ruled internally by the priesthood, and that office became – not a service to God and his people, and certainly not an example of the coming priesthood of Christ – but an office to be bought and sold or taken by force or deception.  In other words, the internal affairs of Israel became totally ungodly.

Nevertheless, they were left basically alone by their Persian masters until a Jewish revolt in the middle of the third century.  And a large group of Jewish revolutionaries were deported to several islands in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.  Jewish inhabited islands are very important in Biblical history and prophecy.

Around 330 BC Alexander the Great marched into the middle East and terminated Persian rule over the world.  He took all of Europe, swept into India and North Africa, and subjugated the known world to Greek rule.  Everywhere he went he established thoroughly Hellenized cities in order to establish the culture in each province.  This Hellenic world and life view is a very important mark in the history if Israel, and we’ll say some more about it next Lord’s Day.

But Alexander, even though he died at age 33, so changed the world that nothing was the same after him.  Alexandria, Egypt is one example of the many cities built in order to establish Greek culture all over the world, for Alexander knew that cultures had to be changed, and had to be similar in order for one ruler to have dominion.  Alexandria became the great learning center of the entire Mideast, and it was world famous for its fabulous library.  Many Jews migrated to Egypt in order to take advantage of the philosophy, the culture and the learning.

It was during this time that a faction of Jewish society saw the need to be separatists from the Greek culture, and the sect of the Pharisees was born.  Pharisee means separatist.

After Alexander the Great died, the Greek empire was ruled from Alexandria, Egypt under the Ptolomies.  Their empire lasted for 120 years.  And it was during this time that the Jews in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.  The translation was called the Septuagint.

In 199 BC the center of Greek culture was moved to Antioch, since the new leader Antiochus the First was Syrian.  And where the Ptolomies of Egypt were passive about Jewish customs, the new Seleucid rulers sought to force a complete Hellenization upon all Jewish culture.  He forbade circumcision, placed a statue of Jupiter in the temple in Jerusalem, caused pigs to be offered on the altar, terminated all Sabbath observance, and forbade all celebrations of feast days and festival days.

And all this time there was terrible infighting within the Jewish community.  Citizens, priests and other leaders were all divided or splintered politically and theologically.  Mini-wars were fought – guile and deception were the order- family strife, torture and murder.  Seleucid law was enforced with strict cruelty.  The Scriptures were burned and the death penalty was instituted for reading them.  Eventually, the Jews who supported the complete Hellenization of the Jewish culture won out.

But those who wanted the Jewish culture to continue weren’t finished.  A family called Maccabeus formed a large band of revolutionary guerillas, and they were able, with stealth and daring, to defeat a large Syrian army and recapture the city of Jerusalem, after which they destroyed the statue of Jupiter in the temple and reinstated the sacrifice.  They then had an eight-day festival, which they called Hanukkah – the festival of lights – in which they celebrated the end of the temple desecration.

But the three brothers – Judas, Jonathan and Simon died in the ensuing wars and political intrigue, having gained for Israel some political independence from Syrian rule.  But Israel still had to recognize the Greek Empire King in Syria.  And the Hellenization of Israel was continuing.

But the dynasty of the Hasmonean ruler/priests had been established in Israel.  With the passing of Simon Maccabeus, his son John Hyrcanus became high priest and political ruler in Jerusalem.  Hyrcanus wanted Israel to remain religious, but the fervor of his father and his grandfather was gone forever.  His children were thoroughly Hellenized – one even forsaking his Jewish name, Judas, and taking a Greek name, Alexander Jannaeus.

Civil war and treachery was constant within the Hasmonean dynasty.  For the brothers of the royal priesthood were wicked.  And the liberal, Greek-oriented Sadducean party was vying for political submission and the Pharisees lobbied for separatism.  The way the history reads, this was much, much worse than the religious wars going on in northern Ireland.  When I deal with the theological and ethical issues next Lord’s Day, we’ll see just what a moral state Israel had fallen into at the time of Christ.

Well, all during this time, the Roman city/state was growing in power and culture.  And in 63 BC Pompey marched into Israel with the Roman Army.  He laid siege to Jerusalem for three months, broke through the walls, slaughtered twelve thousand Jews and marched right in to the holy of holies in the temple.   And Israel lost any vestige of independence it thought it had.

But even so, the house of Israel was still terribly divided, and the internal struggle for power and influence continued unabated.   And it is terribly important to understand that there had been no king in Israel for nearly 500 years.  The priests had taken over the civil government due to the fact that there was foreign rule.   

And here’s why that is so important:  during the decades before the Romans gained international dominion, Israel was able to gain more territory for its own.  And Idumea was one of those provinces, which was incorporated.  Anyone remembering the history of Idumea will recall that its earlier name was Edom.  And Edom was the name of the area in which Esau settled after he gave up his birthright.  Jacob was the son of Isaac who was chosen by God to be the bearer of the covenantal line.  Esau, the twin brother, was rejected and cast out, and he settled Edom.  And the Idumaens were descendants of Esau, the hated one of God!

Now, not being in the covenantal line, the Idumaens were unacceptable.  But they had been incorporated into Israel in a political territory-grab.  Well, one of the Idumaens became an indispensable friend and confidant to high priest Hyrcanus II.  And when Pompey took Israel and Jerusalem, this man ingratiated himself to the Romans, the result being that his son, Herod, was made procurator (manager) of Judea – with the promise that he would soon be made king.  Even after Julius Caesar was murdered, Herod was able to win favor of Mark Antony and in 37 BC was made king of the Jews!

The irony, again, was that a descendant of Esau, the one rejected by God, was made king over the twelve descendant tribes of Jacob, his brother, who received the covenant promises of God!

And it’s very obvious that God had now brought the ultimate shame on a totally apostate, Satanic, people, and He did that at the particular time in history when God’s Anointed King was to be born.  For Herod was still king of the Jews when the real King of the Jews was born.

And it was Herod who ordered all male children in Israel to be killed when he heard that a baby had been born who was bring called KING.  Herod died from disease shortly after that, in about 4 BC.

After his death nearly the entire Herodian family traveled to Rome to press their individual claims before Augustus Caesar.  But the Roman Emperor made none of them king.  Instead he distributed the territory between the three sons.  Herod Antipas was made tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, Archelaus was named tetrarch of Judea and Idumaea, and Phillip was given territory to the south and west.  In addition to them, Roman procurators were sent to govern and manage the province.

But while the Herodian family was cow-towing to the Roman Emperor, a priest in Jerusalem was trying to usurp the throne of Herod the Great.  And about that time a horde of far eastern Parthians invaded the middle-east and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem.  But the three sons of Herod the Great, and the Roman armies were able to repel them and recapture the city.  But, again, the nation had been plundered, thousands had been killed and more thousands carried off into slavery.  And all that happened after Joseph had moved his wife Mary and his baby Jesus to Egypt to save His life from the murderous intent of Herod.

But the nation soon settled into life under strict Roman rule.  The Pharisees became aristocrats rather than ministers of the people, and the Sanhedrin, or ruling body, was formed.  Pontius Pilate was made procurator of Judea.  And at the fullness of time, Jesus was sent before the high priest of Jerusalem, before the procurator Pontius Pilate, before the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who was in Jerusalem for Passover, and then back to Pontius Pilate for final sentencing.  And He was crucified.

During the next thirty-three years those Jews who converted to Christianity withdrew from Israel into the nations, as Christ had told them to do.  And in 70 AD Titus laid siege to the city and destroyed everything, putting an end to the covenant God made with the Jewish people until they are once, again, grafted back into the stalk – which is Christ.

And that will happen before He returns.  That’s one of the things we’ll see before the second coming.  Many Jews will join with us – grafted back into their own stalk- in worshipping the One True God and His Son, Christ Jesus the King.

And they will eat and drink with us at the table – remembering the Lord until He returns.  Feasting on His Body and His Blood, through Faith, which is so very essential to our lives in Him.  And this table this morning is the sign of that feasting – in unity with all of our true brothers in Him.