The book of Daniel is a treasure trove for expository preaching—that is, preaching on the meaning of a text. The prophecies in Daniel 2, 7, and 8–12 are rich in material that explains God’s sovereignty in history (chap. 2; 7; 10–12) and His plan of salvation in the sanctuary ritual (chap. 8–9). The historical chapters 1–6 provide stories whose practical lessons can be applied to the lives of the listeners.
Ellen G. White repeatedly calls attention to the study of the book of Daniel: “As we near the close of this world’s history, the prophecies recorded by Daniel demand our special attention, as they relate to the very time in which we are living.”1 Daniel 2 provides an outline of world history from the time of Babylon to the second coming. Daniel 7 builds on chapter 2, but adds an important player on the stage of history—the little horn, a symbol of the papacy.
Apart from explaining the symbols for the various nations in history and the stone as the second coming, Daniel 2 also has important lessons and points for a good sermon: (1) God is in control of history. (2) There is power in united prayer. (3) History is indeed His-story. The right reading of history brings the assurance that “He who controls the cosmos also guides the atom.”2 (4) The historical fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 2 confirms the inspiration of the Bible, which could be a sermon on its own. Some of the lessons of Daniel 7 are: (1) Prophecy is the foundation of our faith (2 Pet 1:19). (2) The fact that Daniel 7 largely repeats Daniel 2 indicates that God sees this message as very important for His people. (3) The pre-advent judgment that began in 1844 is the first phase of the final judgment. A sermon would include the other phases: the judgment during the millennium (Rev 20:4) and at the end of the millennium (Rev 20:11–15).
The vision in Daniel 8 is the climactic conclusion of the symbolic presentations in the book. What follows from 8:15 to the end of the book is supplementary to the vision of chapter 8. The message of Daniel 8 is the pre-advent judgment illustrated in the Old Testament sanctuary service. A sermon on this topic would explain the Old Testament sanctuary service and how this explains the pre-advent judgment beginning in 1844.
The fulfillment of the seventyweek prophecy in Daniel 9 is another faith-strengthening prophecy. But beyond that, this chapter reveals Daniel as a man of prayer, an example to be imitated by all ministers and lay members. Neither his work as a statesman nor the “good life” at the luxurious Babylonian court could distract him from his daily communion with God.
Daniel 9:24–27 is a sermon on the Messiah, the time of His appearing, His life and work, and His death. Yet no amount of intellectual understanding of this prophecy will benefit us unless we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour. This salvation, according to the New Testament, is offered freely to all humanity. Such a salvation, however, cannot be purchased; it can only be experienced through the surrender of oneself to Jesus—all elements of a sermon on this topic.
Daniel 10 introduces the last vision in Daniel 11–12, but it contains the most important text for a sermon on the great controversy. No other text in Scripture describes more clearly the struggle between the invisible powers that control and influence nations than verse 13. Daniel 10 reveals that a human being has the freedom to oppose God. And a sermon on the resurrection will include Daniel 12:2, one of two clear texts in the Old Testament on the resurrection.
The stories in the historical chapters 1–6 are full of life’s lessons. In chapter 1, we learn that tests of character are opportunities to grow, and that Christians must stand up for what they believe. In chapter 3, we see that throughout history God’s children have always received grace in times of need (Heb 4:16), and that “there is no limit to the usefulness of one who, putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart and lives a life wholly consecrated to God.”3 In chapter 4, we discover that God’s judgments may be averted by repentance and conversion. We should never despair of the conversion of anyone. This story also reveals most graphically the danger of pride. In chapter 5, we find that sin does not go unpunished, and we see how prone we are to forget the lessons of the past. Chapter 6 teaches us that a consistent refusal to do evil will bring Christians into situations similar to the lions’ den. Daniel’s experience in chapter 6 is a reminder that a governmental decree in the future will require all mankind to worship the “beast and his image” (Rev 13:11–15).
THEMES IN DANIEL
Jesus Jesus is at the center of this book: (1) He is the stone in chapter 2. (2) He is the man in the fiery oven in chapter 3. (3) He is the Son of Man in chapter 7. (4) He is the Prince of the host in chapter 8. (5) He is Messiah the Prince in chapter 9. (6) And He is Michael in the last vision in chapters 10–12.
Daniel means “God is my judge,” and throughout the book we find explanations of that truth. The book begins and ends with references to judgment: at the beginning, apostate Judah is judged (Dan 1:1–2); at the end, the king of the North (11:40–45). In the middle of the book (7:9–14), the Ancient of Days chairs a judgment in which, in the presence of a multitude of angels, books are opened and “a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High” (7:22). On each side of this great judgment scene, we find further references to judgment. In chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar, the proud king of Babylon, is judged and reduced to animal status, and in chapter five Belshazzar, his grandson, receives the message: “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (5:27, NKJV). There is no shortage of material for a sermon on God’s judgments.
The historical chapters of the book (chap. 1–6) illustrate how God vindicates and delivers those who remain faithful to Him in a hostile pagan environment. These chapters contain the motif of trial and trouble ending in elevation and glory. Thus, the good news that trials and temptations are followed by blessings for those obedient to God is proclaimed throughout these chapters. For example, in chapter 1 the four young Hebrews are tested concerning their commitment to the law of God. They are found faithful and are promoted to the palace of the king (1:19). In chapter 3, Daniel’s friends are tested again and found to be faithful. God delivers them, and instead of being burned alive, they prosper as a result of further promotion by the king (3:30). In chapter 6, Daniel is falsely accused and condemned to death. However, the conspiracy of the king’s counselors fails, and the prophet experiences deliverance from the lions’ den. As a result, “Daniel prospered” (6:28, NKJV).
Preaching from Daniel can be a life-changing experience for the preacher and listeners, whether you preach from the prophetic or biographical chapters of the book.
1 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1943), 547.
2 Desmond Ford, “The Family Tree of Nations,” Ministry, March 1974, 21.
3 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1942), 159.
Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, prior to his retirement was associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.