When the judge came back into the room, the whole crowd got quiet1. Not just quiet, they became silent. Everyone could hear their own breathing and their own beating heart, which was beating faster now. The accusations had been shocking, the trial had brought out all the evidence, and now, finally, the verdict was in.
There were only two ways it could go. Either the defendant would be found guilty and would face punishment, or he’d be found not guilty and be free to go. The first verdict meant the end; it meant death. The second verdict would mean life, hope, and possibility.
So the crowd listened in the courtroom. An even bigger crowd listened outside, with people stretching to try to see into the court or straining their ears to hear what would be said. Reporters were waiting to tell the story; dozens of news vans with tall satellite-dish towers were parked outside.
But now the waiting would end. No more wondering or speculating. Now we would know for sure. And the judge opened his mouth to speak.
We tend to be fascinated by courtroom trials. The sheer amount of movies, television shows, and plays that are about trials or that at least contain a trial are staggering. They’re everywhere! Most of us know courtrooms from these shows more than we know about real courtrooms.
There’s something so dramatic about a trial. There’s right and wrong on display. There is evidence brought forward. There’s a decision. There’s a verdict. Sure, we know real life has things like appeals and mistrials and hung juries. But most of the time, when that verdict comes in, it’s going to be interesting.
It was over 19 years ago that the verdict came in for the murder trial of former NFL football player OJ Simpson. The reading of that verdict was broadcast live on television, and at the time, it was the most-watched event in television history, with more than 150 million viewers. So, yeah, people are interested in verdicts.
But what verdict would we be most interested in? I think that’s pretty obvious: it’d be your verdict. If you were on trial, well, I can’t even imagine what that verdict announcement would feel like. Especially if the case was life or death.
But that’s really what we’re getting at today. That’s what our text from the book of Daniel is about, that’s what this whole service is about today. Judgment Day, the end of the world, it’s all about a verdict. A decision is going to come down about your life — your very soul. The consequences couldn’t be higher; the two options are life forever in heaven, or death forever in hell. There’s no in-between.
But here’s the thing: we don’t have to wait. We don’t have to gather around a tv or wait outside a courthouse. We get to find out right now. The Judge is God, the defendant is you, and the verdict is in.
We get a glimpse of the trial itself here in our text from the book of the prophet Daniel. Yes, it’s that Daniel, the one we heard about just last week being thrown into the lions’ den. But we’re now in a very different part of the book of Daniel. The first half of the book has historical accounts of Daniel’s life and the people around him. So not only do we see Daniel in that den of lions, but we also see Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego getting put into a fiery furnace.
This second half of the book of Daniel contains prophecies. And not just prophecies, dreams of prophecies. There are bizarre dreams in this book. They are the kind you scratch your head and read and reread to try to make sense of it all. If you read the last half of Daniel and then read the book of Revelation, the similarities might surprise you. They both have strange visions that point to spiritual realities and promises of God.
The first part of the chapter of our text talks about 4 different beasts. (Dan. 7:1-8) It’s strange stuff. Here’s a taste of it: Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. (Dan. 7:3-4) Weird, right?
Daniel gives us some clues throughout the book as to what these beasts are pointing to. It turns out they are different governments of the world; they are the nations who would control the world and the promised land in the years following Daniel’s life. The prophecies in this chapter stroll through history, showing powerful governments getting taken over by other powerful governments. Then, it jumps from these governments to our text, which is the end of the world.
The point here is that earthly kingdoms come and go, but God’s kingdom lasts forever. Different countries may appear to be “ruling the world” at different times, but God himself is the one who is really in charge. And He’s the one who will be there at the end, on the last day, to judge the world.
Look at how our text describes our Judge. As I looked,thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. (Dan. 7:9) Our Judge walks into the court and takes his seat.
But he’s called the Ancient of Days. Kind of a strange name; this is the only place in the Bible where God has this name. It fits him, though. Think about your life in terms of the number of days you’ve been alive. I’m 35 years old. So I’ve spent at minimum 12,775 days alive in this world. That might sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to God. He’s been around for all the days. He’s eternal. He’s the Ancient of Days.
And you can tell he means business. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. (Dan. 7:9) There are a few times in the Bible where someone is described like this. God the Father here in Daniel, Jesus himself at his Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2), and the angel who appeared at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday (Matt. 28:3). What’s the same about all of these people? They’re holy.
This shining light and brilliant white of God’s appearance here is a reminder of who He is: He’s perfect and holy. He doesn’t make mistakes. He is not a judge who has made his own mistakes in the past; He is the Judge who is perfect and holy and 100% righteous. And He’s the one who will judge you.
A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Dan. 7:10) What a scene this is! God is blinding-white on his throne, a river of fire flowing around him. He doesn’t have a little 12-person jury and a few other people around him, he’s got ten thousand times ten thousand standing before him.
This is almost the exact description of angels that we find in the book of Revelation. We know that angels are servants and messengers of God, and here they are serving him even at Judgment Day. We’re not told what they’re doing, but the presence of thousands of holy, perfect angels by the holy, perfect God surrounded by rivers of fire … well, it would definitely get our attention.
Are you getting the point of all this? Is the picture of this vision sinking in with you? I’m sure I’d be nervous having to stand trial in an earthly trial as the defendant. My hands would be sweating, and my heart would be beating like some kind of tribal drum. But in this courtroom in our text? There’s no contest; this trial in heaven would be way worse. I don’t even know how I’d stay conscious.
And if I somehow survived the sight of all this, I’d be even more worried about that last sentence in our text: the books were opened. See, trials have evidence. Have you figured out what this trial is, what is being judged on Judgment Day? It’s our lives. This trial will find out exactly how our sinful lives measured up to a perfect, holy God’s standards.
How would that evidence look for you? Remember, this evidence would be perfect. This wouldn’t be the things you were caught doing, this would be everything.
That hateful thought that just popped into your mind. The couple of words you spoke under your breath. Those things that aren’t technically legal, but you know you can get away with them anyway. Those sins of yours that you don’t even want to think about, let alone even consider hearing them mentioned out loud. These are the sins in the book. These are the evidence against you.
You see, it’s so easy to think that sins just don’t matter. It’s so easy to shrug them off. There are sins we commit so often, that have become so automatic, that are now almost a reflex. How many sins do you commit each day that you don’t even know you’ve done? I shudder to know the answer for myself.
But if the books there at the Judgment contained all our sins, we’d sure find out. We would know that one hour would be enough. We are guilty. Every one of us has mountains of evidence against us. There’s plenty of sins in one day, one hour, most minutes to put us away forever. Ours is an open-and-shut case if ever there was one: open the books with our sins and shut us into the punishment of hell forever.
But the verdict is in. We don’t have to wait till the last day. We’re not anxious with what a jury will say or whether the Judge will “go easy” on us. We’ve got someone else who will also come to judge that last day, but who also speaks on our defense. The only evidence that counts is his.
We see him a few verses after our text here in Daniel. In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)
It’s Jesus! He’s the Son of Man — the one we confess in the creed will come to judge the living and the dead. He, true God and true Man, speaks to his heavenly Father in our defense, he presents the evidence we need. We hear in the New Testament that God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
Yes, this same Son of Man, who will be there on that last day, he will have taken on our sins. He made those sins his own and paid them in full on the cross. He took all our guilt, all our crimes, and was sentenced for them, and he already paid their price! And he has given us his righteousness by faith.
Remember what it said in the Psalms, If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Ps. 130:3) If God’s evidence book had a record of our sins, we’d be lost. But what has he done with those sins? He told us in Isaiah. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Is. 43:25)
Our Savior took the record of our sins, and he blotted them out. He crossed them out. He didn’t cover them in ink or white-out; he covered them with his blood. And that means it is finished. The verdict is in. It’s not guilty.
That’s not a maybe verdict or a probably-if-you’re-lucky verdict. That’s done. You see, the other book there on Judgment Day is the book of Life. That’s the book that guarantees we will be in heaven forever. In Revelation we hear, He who overcomes will…be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. (Rev. 3:5)
Friends, your name is in that book of life. The verdict is in. Jesus has declared you “not guilty.” So live in thanks because of that. Live, knowing that Jesus will return to take you home,and eagerly doing the work he’s put before you now. Tell others about the verdict Jesus has given you. Live in his forgiveness and love.
When Jesus returns, when his trumpet sounds, we won’t need to be afraid. We won’t need to worry about what’s in those books. Because our verdict is already in, and our eternity is guaranteed. So when Jesus returns, don’t run in fear. Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Lk. 21:28)