Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we will learn about the final world empire in the first reading from the Prophet Daniel. Then we will learn about suffering from Saint Peter and the importance of listening to God from the Gospel of Matthew.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The reading from the Prophet Daniel follows the incident in Chapter 6 when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den but safely delivered through the divine providence of God. Chapter 7 opens with Daniel’s visions of four beasts representing successive world rulers. If one studies world history, the identity of the first three is readily apparent, with the fourth, future empire shrouded in mystery. These begin with the Babylonian Empire represented by a lion (Daniel 7:4). Next, the Medo/Persian Empire is represented by a bear (Daniel 7:5). The third empire is that of the Greeks and is represented by a leopard (Daniel 7:6). Finally, the fourth future empire is represented by a terrifying beast with ten horns, but existing alongside another “little horn” which came about after the demise of three of the ten horns (or kingdoms / rulers). This future eschatological empire was at least partially fulfilled by the historical Roman Empire with its ruling city of Rome, the city on seven hills. It is apparent from studies of the biblical Books relating to the end times (the study of eschatology) that this last “Roman” empire will be much different from the one that preceded it. This final empire is the one displayed in the Book of Revelation. In a similar way that God exists as a Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, this last world empire is represented by three leaders: The Beast, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet. The beast represents Satan, the filthy, unholy father of them all. The Antichrist is the world leader that will emerge in the end times falsely claiming to be the Messiah, and the Jews along with the whole world will be deceived. The third figure that will emerge at the conclusion of the present world is a figure known as the False Prophet. This person will function as a false “holy spirit” and will work to deceive and unite the world against God and His believers (Christians and Jews).
Today’s reading picks up in Chapter 7 at verse 9 following God’s revelation of the four world empires represented by their rulers, each called “beasts.” The focus of the reading is upon the events surrounding the judgment of the last empire, the fourth kingdom that is “different from all the kingdoms” (Daniel 7:23). The ruler of this final kingdom will “change the times (Daniel 7:25), perhaps to some arrangement consisting of a six day week (the Beast cannot have a Sunday rest day), sixty days in a month, and six months in a year (6-60-6) in such a way as to display the pattern of sixes spoken of in Revelation (Revelation 13:18).
As you read, the identity of God the Father will come into view (v. 9, the Ancient of Days) along with the Son (v. 13, “one like a son of man.”
First Reading: (Including Skipped Verses 11-12)
Daniel 7:9-14 NAS95 9 "I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. 10 "A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened. 11 "Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. 12 "As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time. 13 "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 "And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.
In the reading, Daniel relays God’s message to people throughout the ages about a time when the True Ruler of the universe would judge the entire world including the “little horn,” the future person of the AntiChrist. In the opening verse we see how the “Ancient of Days” sat down (“took His seat”) to judge the world (v. 10). “The court sat, And the books were opened” for judgment.
The reading flows this way. Thrones were set up, notice the plural “thrones.” Next, details were provided concerning the identity and characteristics of the Judge of the Universe, God the Father. The court proceedings were opened resulting in the slaying of the AntiChrist and deliverance to his eternal sentence in hell. This is the one spewing forth “boastful words” (v. 11) against God and His people. The reading closes with the return of the Lord Jesus, “One like a Son of Man” whose dominion “is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (v. 14).
The big idea and points of application of this reading are that the world in which we live will be judged and that the rightful Ruler, King Jesus, will reign forever. Evil rulers, whether existing in heaven or on earth, will be judged and sentenced to eternal punishment away from God and His people. We are people who have received advance warning from God not to be deceived by false rulers claiming to be God (Matthew 24:24). As believers with the hope in the promised return of the Lord Jesus, we can rest in the fact that God will satisfy our desire for evil to be judged and for the right to win. This will happen when Jesus is given dominion by the Ancient of Days. The Son of Man will establish the original purpose of humankind, “to serve Him.” In this way, Jesus who is called the second Adam will accomplish what the first Adam lost in the Garden of Eden.
In our day, a time of God’s grace, it seems that evil people “get away with it.” But in today’s reading we learn that although they may do so for a time, we can rest in the fact that God will even the score at the end of the age. All of the “beasts” will be judged, and we can be confident during our trials with the “beasts” in our lives that they will face judgment before the Ancient of Day unless they repent of their sins and trust in the One and Only solution, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for their sins. When we put our trust in the Son of Man, Jesus, we are putting our lives into the hands of the One who will reign in glory forever.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
This reading from Saint Peter speaks to some of what we learned in the first reading regarding not being deceived while providing insights into the nature of Jesus, “One like a Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13). Peter wrote what is titled his second letter to Christians during a time of persecution under Nero. It was important for the early church to understand that they were not suffering for a made-up story, and that their suffering was not in vain. They were aligning themselves with the God-ordained Ruler of the earth, who was the verified and authentic Son of God. Though times were very difficult, Peter reassured them that they were on the right side.
2 Peter 1:16-19 NAS95 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased" -- 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
Peter’s letter to suffering Christians came with an important message that would shore up their foundation of faith: Jesus is the real thing and He’s worth it! Peter, who was a disciple (learner) of Jesus and, later, an apostle (meaning a “sent one”) was a credible witness to the authenticity of the claims of Christ that had led these early believers to give up everything to follow Jesus. In the midst of persecution, it can be easy to question one’s feelings and wonder if it’s really worth it to suffer for someone you have never met. Peter’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, created a reliable source for them to rest assured that their faith was not based on a fairy tale. Peter points to an important incident that happened while Jesus was on earth, the Transfiguration. This will be discussed further in the Gospel reading.
Peter uses a multi-sensory approach to convince the suffering saints that Jesus was authentically the Son of God. He not only saw Jesus’ majesty revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration, he also heard the voice of God the Father (the Majestic Glory). The Father verified that Jesus was truly His Son and that the Son pleased the Father. This meant that even though Christ would suffer, which would make him look shameful in the eyes of humankind, He was actually honored for His obedience to the Father. No matter how things looked on the surface, Jesus’ life was a success in the Father’s eyes.
In the midst of suffering and persecution, one can imagine how this testimony would have been a huge source of comfort to those who had not been able to see the transfiguration nor heard this voice from heaven. They were admonished to stand strong in their faith and to focus their attention on the truth, rejecting the lies that the enemy was trying to sow into their hearts. Faith of this nature requires active engagement and vigilance on the part of the believer.
In our day, the message of this passage can bring comfort and encouragement for us to stand firm in our faith, knowing that Jesus is worthy of our worship and obedience. He is the real thing, authenticated by the very voice of God the Father, who made it known that Jesus was His Son. Jesus’ life pleased the Father, which in turn, becomes the basis of our own righteousness. What was seen as a shameful death (death on a cross based on Galatians 3:13) actually was reversed by the Father’s testimony of Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus’ ability to please the Father can now be applied to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21), setting us free from the penalty and shame of sin.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
As we move onto the Gospel lesson, we will see the importance of first listening to God, even when we feel that we need to take immediate actions. The Gospel lesson today is from Matthew Chapter 17. The context was just after Peter proclaimed to Jesus under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah of God (Matthew 16:16). Jesus then revealed to His disciples that He would be handed over to the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed then raised up on the third day (v. 21). Peter responded to this information by immediately and impulsively responding to Jesus by saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (v. 222b) to which Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's” (v. 23). Peter was a man of action, and Jesus reprimanded him for attempting to take matters into his hands rather than allowing God to accomplish His divine plan through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
Read the Gospel account of what is known as the “transfiguration” of Jesus in which we see a glimpse of God’s glory revealed through the Person of Jesus Christ.
1 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid." 8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead" (Matthew 17:1-9).
The central focus of the passage was the Father revealing Jesus’ glory as God in the flesh. He chose to reveal Jesus’ true identity to a subset of Jesus’ disciples. It’s significant that Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the mountain. Peter, formerly a fisherman named Simon, was the foremost of the disciples, since every time that he is mentioned along with a list of disciples he is always listed first. Simon Peter was a man of action, as he is the one that cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant when the mob came to arrest Jesus on the evening before His crucifixion (John 18:10). Peter became a leader of the church among the Jews, as Paul became a leader of the church to the Gentiles. James and John, known as the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17), were also significant in their influence on the early church. James (known as James the Greater) was the first martyr among the disciples. James, along with his brother John, were known for their zeal and energy for their ministry to the Lord. Together with Peter, James and John formed the triad of disciples who shared special privileges with the Lord Jesus. These privileged three men were chosen by God to be the first ones to experience the glory of Jesus.
As we move deeper into the text, notice that the passage centered around the Father’s message to Jesus’ disciples. This contains an important hint as to the theological big idea of the text. God the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him! (v. 5d). Throughout Matthew’s Gospel Jesus had explained to His disciples the nature of the coming kingdom. He said in the previous chapter that His kingdom would not come until after the Jewish religious authorities had Him killed and He was raised up on the third day (Matthew 16:21). What God the Father was saying boiled down to something like this:
“Jesus is telling you about His Kingdom. You have different ideas, like setting up your own shrines and bringing in the kingdom through your own efforts, but you need to listen to Him for the truth about how it must play out according to the plan foreordained from before the beginning of time.”
Which of us would not have wanted to respond in a similar way as Peter? I remember an incident that happened between me and my wife that helps to shed some light on how Peter acted impulsively during the transfiguration incident from the Gospel lesson. Just after we got married, my wife and I had gone out to a quiet dinner at a local restaurant in a lakeshore community in a nearby town. As we settled down to eat, my wife’s cell phone rang. It was bad news. After she hung up the call, I sprang into action with a five-point plan on how we would overcome this obstacle and how we should proceed. As I moved on to the next four points, the first hint that I had that she wasn’t receiving my plan very well was a slight tremor that began in her upper lip. “That’s strange,” I thought, “was she feeling ill, was it something in the soup that was causing this shake?” Soon, the small tremor advanced until her whole body began shaking and then an all-out cry began! What had I done wrong, I was only trying to help? What my wife needed at that moment was just for me to be with her, hold her, and to listen.
My story about the need for me to just shut up and listen is similar to what happened to Peter when he responded impulsively to Jesus during the transfiguration experience. God the father responded to Peter’s three-point plan by saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (v. 5c). Peter, though well intentioned, simply needed to listen to God. When we are confronted with the glory of our Lord Jesus and the love of the Father for Him (which by the way is the same love Jesus has for us based on John 15:9), the appropriate response is to surrender our whole lives to God. Sometimes we just need to listen to God and not feel the need to respond with our own three-point plan.
1. Jesus is highlighted in various ways in each of these three passages of Scripture. List out all of the descriptions and identify what these descriptions mean about who He is and who you are in Him. How can these truths shore up your own faith and help you to rest more solidly in times of difficulty?
2. In what ways are you challenged by the testimony of Peter and the story of Jesus’ transfiguration? Are there ways that Peter’s impulsivity to try to tell God what to do resonated with you? How does the reliability of Peter’s testimony speak to the issues of your own faith journey?