“Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”Luke 8:1
The heart of the message of the book of Daniel is that same good news of the Kingdom of God. No other Old Testament book deals with the theme in such a full and explicit way. It’s the book we need to get to grips with if we are to understand the message that Jesus came to announce, therefore. In fact not just his message, but his mission and his whole understanding of himself seem to have been profoundly shaped by this book. When Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man he was referring to the “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7 who would rule over God’s kingdom, and he drew on other language and ideas from the book too.
So though children love the stories of Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, it is not a book we should leave for kids. Adults enjoy a good story too, and are better able to appreciate these stories of ruthless political tyranny and religious persecution. More to the point, we need to understand these stories, because they are crucial to our understanding of Jesus, our world and what it means to serve God faithfully in these last days.
The setting for the book is a world of evil and suffering, a world that is antagonistic to the life of faith, a world where idolatry is the order of the day. Daniel and his friends show us something of how we can live for the kingdom of God, whilst also living in the kingdoms of this world. It is of great relevance therefore to believers in 21st century Britain as we seek to be in the world but not of the world.
The structure of the book seems quite straightforward at first sight – chapters 1-6 are essentially biographical stories (they’re the ones we read to our kids), and chapters 7-12 are apocalyptic visions (which we tend not to read to our kids, and may not know ourselves).
But the footnotes in the NIV point out that chapters 2-7 are written in a different language in the original – Aramaic as opposed to Hebrew – which would seem to be a stylistic device for tying those chapters together into a unit, so that they form the core of the book.
Within that core, there are striking similarities between chapters 2 and 7, chapters 3 and 6, and chapters 4 and 5, both in subject matter and plot ( – look and see). Around that core, chapter 1 sets the scene in Babylon for what follows; and chapters 8-12 expound further the pattern of world history taught earlier in the book, but from the particular perspective of God’s people, showing what it will mean for them and what they should expect.
For a more detailed introduction to help orient you to the book you will need to look at the commentaries. These notes are not intended to be sufficient and are intentionally brief.
The questions that follow are only suggestions, and many are nicked from Kingdom of Dreams. Please note that on some weeks there is a lot to cover, particularly in sessions 3 and 4, so I’d recommend a bit of homework – mentioned in the studies.