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God’s deliverance is not out of, but through tribulation. In this way God proves His sovereignty, for He does not retreat from the world but overcomes it. This is not a battle where God and the devil each win a few and lose a few. While it may appear on the surface that the devil wins many battles, such victories are illusions, because the only way for God to lose a battle is to plan to lose ahead of time for a greater good yet to follow.
In the case of the three Hebrew officials, it appeared as if they were going to be killed in the fiery furnace. But because they represented the overcomers in tribulation over a period of “seven times,” their deliverance was never in doubt. Of course, they had no way of knowing that they represented a greater body of people, so they did not know whether God would deliver them personally or not. Their names, along with Daniel’s, had a total numeric value of 888, which was the same as that of Iesous (Jesus), but since the Messiah had not yet come, it is unlikely that they had received the revelation of His name, and so they did not know that they represented the body of Christ on a prophetic level.
Even so, the three had faith in God, knowing that whatever the outcome of their trial, they agreed that He was a good God and had not forgotten them. So they were cast into the furnace of fire, and to prove its temperature the guards leading them into the fire were killed by its heat.
The Fourth Man
Daniel 3:24, 25 then says,
24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he responded and said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods [Aram. elahh]!”
The Hebrews in tribulation were not alone. Jesus walked with them through the fire, and what the Babylonians meant for evil, God turned into good. What the Babylonians meant for destruction, God turned into an occasion for manifesting His glory.
Who did the king see? He saw one “like a son of the gods” (NASB). The text, written in Aramaic, uses the term elahh, which is the equivalent to the Hebrew eloah. It can be translated either as “the gods” or as “God,” depending on the context. In this case, since it is a statement by the Babylonian king, the NASB translates it according to the understanding of a pagan king, “the gods.” Yet we know that the king was prophesying inadvertently about the Son of God, which the text itself fully supports.
“The king was astounded,” for the second time in his career, as Jesus chose to reveal Himself at a distance to the Babylonian king. The first revelation in Daniel 2 was not face to face, for it came through Daniel’s interpretation of the dream. There the king bore witness of Christ through Daniel, according to the principle found in John 14:8, 9,
8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
But the king’s encounter in Daniel 3 was a greater revelation, because he saw Christ for Himself and not merely through one of the believers.
The prophetic implication here is that at the end of the time of tribulation in our time, Jesus intends to reveal Himself even to the rulers of Babylon. In fact, one might easily conclude from this prophetic story that it is this revelation itself that will fully end the time of tribulation. Daniel 3:26 says,
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.
The three overcomers made no attempt to leave the fire until they were ordered to come out of it. In fact, they found no compelling reason to leave the fire, because they were in perfect peace in spite of the fire. While the Babylonian king was applying his own earthly fire to them, God applied the heavenly baptism of fire to them. The fire signified two things on different levels. The two fires converged at the point where they understood the fire of tribulation to be part of God’s plan to purify His people by the work of the Holy Spirit’s baptism.
Daniel 3:27 continues,
27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men, nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.
There was no smell of roasted flesh or hair, and their clothing was undamaged. They did not even carry “the smell of fire.” They were entirely unaffected by the fire. History shows us that many of the overcomers were indeed killed by the fires of tribulation. However, in the end their hope was in the resurrection of the dead, where they would emerge fully restored as sons of God.
One can only imagine the conversation that took place at that time, because it is not recorded for us. It was witnessed by all of the top officials in the Babylonian government, and surely all then concluded that the God of these men was the Most High God. The inadequacy of all their petty gods and images was very clear.
Daniel 3:28 says,
28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants, who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their God.”
The king understood that God had sent “His angel” to deliver the three overcomers. The term indicates a divine messenger. This term does not eliminate the possibility that Jesus was that four man in the furnace. Malachi 3:1 prophesies of John the Baptist, saying,
1 Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me…
This “messenger,” or angel, was a man. Then we see in the same verse another “messenger,” or angel, prophesying of Jesus Himself:
1 “… And the Lord [Adon, “lord, master”], whom you seek, will suddenly [pithom, “suddenly, surprisingly”] come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
Jesus went to the temple many times, but only once did He come “suddenly.” This was fulfilled in John 7:14, when Jesus went to the temple “in secret” (John 7:10) and then appeared in a surprising manner. Jesus was “the messenger of the covenant,” that is, He was the Mediator of the New Covenant.
In Daniel 3:29 Nebuchadnezzar said,
29 “Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn from limb to limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”
The king of Babylon thus recognized the Most High God and put an end to the tribulation that had been brought on by the overcomers’ refusal to worship other gods. The king’s decree was extreme, of course, for he did not know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Those who lack such revelation believe that God is like human kings. Even as the king of Babylon thought it proper to burn the three Hebrew officials in the furnace of fire for daring to disobey his decree, so also he still thought it proper that those speaking offensively against the God of heaven should be “torn from limb to limb.”
Many worship an Indignant God who demands to be worshiped and treated with utmost respect on pain of torture or death. It is assumed that God holds His own rights to be more important than love. Like any idol, they have created a god in the image of men, seen in the example of earthly kings like Nebuchadnezzar.
It is difficult to overcome the assumptions inherent in one’s culture and to know God for who He really is. But we see the example of Jesus, who demonstrated His love for us and was willing to suffer death for us in the most humiliating manner. He did not consider His own need or comfort, but suffered all things for our benefit. Phil. 2:3-5 says,
3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.
Dan. 3:30 concludes,
30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.
It appears that this incident gave the three overcomers true freedom of conscience. Their God was recognized as the Most High God, and no one dared to say otherwise. This is a prophecy of the conversion of the rulers of Babylon in our time, who will soon be compelled—not by force but by revelation—to bow to Jesus Christ and to recognize that the overcomers are the ones called to reign with Christ.