by Michael C. Wells
Have you ever been under great pressure with a lot depending on your every move? Many people have to deal with this kind of pressure every day. Big business demands that individuals be prepared to make split second decisions that affect large amounts of money. Governments must make similar decisions that may affect the well- being of a whole society. Each one of these situations calls for composure and wise counsel. These are life and death matters, and the pressure is high.
However, can you imagine the pressure you would be under if your religion put you in the fire? You might say, “How could religion put me in the fire? I thought that religion was supposed to get me out of trouble?” Well, many people have been put “in the fire” because of their beliefs. Jesus said, “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.” (Mark 13: 9.) This has happened time and time again. The early Christians were brutally murdered by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Why was this? It was because they would not bow to Caesar and give homage to pagan idols. These are examples of persecution through the state-endorsed religion. State religion has always been a popular theme of governments. It is a way of controlling the masses under their rule. If you can control a person’s religion, you can mold his mind and how he thinks.
Jesus knew that persecution would take place under the auspices of state- endorsed religion and so He again warned us in Matthew 16: 2: “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” [Emphasis supplied.] Here we see not rulers and kings, presidents or statesmen persecuting God’s people, but actually those who claim to be God’s people. Astounding, is it not? Can you imagine your pastor, elder or deacon actually persecuting you because you believe something different than they do? Jesus said it will happen, and it has already happened many times in the past.
However, God does not allow us to have trials just to make us suffer. He knows that trials, patiently born, will help us to perfect Christian characters. It takes this testing and trying to ferret out the deep-seated flaws that, sometimes, are known to God alone. It can be a great struggle to overcome our sins, but God says that we can be victorious through the help He offers in the Holy Spirit.
The Golden Dream
Let us look at one example of a state- endorsed religion, which has some interesting parallels for today. It all began around 588 B. C., when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem and took captive the house of Judah, which is known to us today as the Jewish nation. It was his policy to take certain strong, intelligent young men and groom them to work in the administration of the government. So Nebuchadnezzar selected from the Jewish captives several young men who seemed to have quite a knack for facts and figures. He trained them and tutored them to be leaders. There were four young men who were not like the rest of his students. They were God fearing, humble gentlemen that loved the Lord with all their heart. Their names were Hanniah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel, and they were given the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego, and Belteshazzar. The Bible says that Daniel had determined not to defile himself with the meat and wine that God had told him he should not use. Daniel had made a study of the Scriptures to see what was acceptable to God, and honored Him in all that he did. So when Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, Daniel plead with the Lord that he might know and understand the dream. Because of his dedication, he was given an opportunity to serve God by revealing to King Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream. In the dream, the King had seen an image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of clay and iron mixed. (For more information on the dream, read our booklet, Why Hitler Lost.)
King Nebuchadnezzar was interested mainly in the head of gold, which Daniel told him represented his kingdom. Daniel told him, “You, O king, are a king of kings . . . you are this head of gold.” Daniel 2: 37, 38. (Babylon was known at that time as the city of gold. See Isaiah 14: 4.) You can imagine the pride that the king must have felt when he discovered that his kingdom was represented by the beautiful, gold head of the image, but he was not happy that the rest of the image was not also gold. He wanted his kingdom to last forever, but the different metals of the image illustrated that his kingdom would someday fall to another. This infuriated Nebuchadnezzar. He could not stand the thought of his beautiful golden city someday being taken over by another.
When the king had heard the interpretation of the dream, He realized the hand of God in it. He proclaimed to Daniel: “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” Verse 47. The king was so impressed that he showered Daniel with many gifts and promoted him to be “ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon.”
It is not likely that Daniel made any friends among the wise men of the kingdom that day. To them, his promotion was an insult. “Imagine having a foreigner ruling over us,” they must have thought. To make things worse, “Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon . . .”
Conflict began to brew in the court of Babylon. The magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans were already jealous of Daniel for being exulted above them, and then these other Hebrews were also shown favoritism over them. At first, when Daniel explained the dream, the wise men were relieved to know that they had been saved from the king’s death decree (for the king had said that the wise men were to die if they could not interpret his dream), but now that the danger was over, petty rivalry and self- exultation proliferated in the minds of all. King Nebuchadnezzar was still reveling in the thoughts of the image that was in his dream. He was an idol worshipper and was greatly impressed with the magnificence of this image. His thoughts turned to building an empire and dynasty of gold. It was not enough that he was the head, he wanted to be the whole image. As he dwelt on this thought, he made the decision to make this a reality. He determined that his image would last forever. It would far excel the one in his dream. His image would represent Babylon in its entire splendor.
The king was so wrapped up in his fantasy of a golden image that he forgot about God and the prophecies that had been shown him. His thoughts were centered on his desire to establish his own power, to make Babylon a wonder of the world. The king’s counselors nurtured the king’s ego by reassigning the meaning of the prophecy so that it would favor the king. They rejected the prophecy as it stood and twisted the truth by misinterpreting and misapplying it to fit their needs.
The Stand Against Idolatry
The king ordered his treasure house to be opened and even emptied, if necessary, to build this entirely gold idol. This image was to be similar to the one in his dream, but even more imposing and quite exquisite. Never before had the Chaldeans built such a massive statue. This idol was to be threescore cubits in height and six cubits in width (approximately 90 feet tall and 18 feet wide). What a sculpture! It is no wonder that this idol, in the midst of an idol worshipping people, would receive praise and worship. The people had never seen anything like it before.
The king made a decree, that at the dedication of the image, all should come and bow down before it in order to show support and allegiance for their king and country. For the special occasion the king ordered the best musicians to perform. They had the horn, the flute, the harp, the lyre, and the psaltery all in a symphony of music. It was to be quite a celebration.
Why did the king go to this length? King Nebuchadnezzar wanted the worship of the people, yet he knew that there might be some resistance if he asked them to bow to him personally. But to show their support for their king and country by bowing down to a great masterpiece of sculpture and splendor, with music playing and emotions high, might actually work.
Always remember, if you give homage to an object, decree, or doctrine that an individual or power sets up, you are really bowing to that person’s or that power’s authority. Notice how God emphasizes this in the record in Daniel. “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image, which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up . So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up ; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up .” Daniel 3: 1– 3. The God of heaven wanted to make the point that this image was a representative of Nebuchadnezzar. It was the king that was to be exulted, and the Bible says only God is worthy of worship. It does not go unnoticed by God when man exults himself to be worshipped.
In order to ensure the worship of the people, a decree went forth that at the sound of the music all were to bow in unison to the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When the day appointed finally came, a vast multitude was gathered on the plain of Dura, not just the noblemen of Babylon, but also present were the leading men from all of the countries which Nebuchadnezzar had conquered. Many of these people were of the house of Judah, as were Daniel’s three friends.
Along with the incentive of wonderful music, there was also a threat of reprisal if one did not obey the decree. Listen to what the coordinator of the event said to the people. “Then a herald cried aloud: ‘to you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the fiery furnace. ’” Daniel 3: 4– 6.
If you were given a choice of bowing to an image or being killed, what would you choose? Would you say, “Well I won’t really worship the image, but in order to save my life, I’ll fake it.” Or maybe you might reason. “I love the Lord, yet my family cannot do without me. How would they survive? So I will kneel down, but I will pray to the Lord as I am bowing down to this image.” Many people try to get around the issue by using this kind of reasoning. They feel that it does not matter if they compromise a little bit, because, they reason, “the Lord knows my heart.” I firmly agree that the Lord does know every heart, but I also know that no man knows his own heart. The Lord proclaims, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17: 9. It is self- deception to believe that we can get around the commandments of God.
When the beautiful music began to play, the multitude bowed down to the image. This included Jews who were taken to Babylon in captivity. I am sure that they reasoned that they had no choice as slaves in Babylon but to do what they were told. Surely the Lord wanted them to survive! But God knew that not all would bow the knee to this idolatrous symbol of human power. In the midst of this apostasy of idol worship there were three who stood out. They did not bow down to the image but stood their ground for the Lord. The Chaldeans, who were in charge of the kingdom, went to Nebuchadnezzar and accused these three worthies of the Lord. “They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image, which you have set up. ’” Daniel 3: 9– 12.
Nebuchadnezzar was furious, of course, but he decided to be fair and give them another chance. After all, he had put a lot of time and money into their training. They were valuable members of his cabinet. When Shadrach, Meshach, and AbedNego were brought before the king, Nebuchadnezzar asked them: “is it true . . . that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?” The three worthies testified to the king of their allegiance to God and their faith in Him. The king, not wanting to lose these men, threatened them with the consequences of their disobedience. “Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace . . .” Daniel 3: 15.
The dye was cast, and the three Hebrews were given two options. They knew the king was serious. The easiest thing to do would be to relent and bow to the image. No one would blame them or condemn them since everyone else had done it, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego were loyal to the God of heaven. They had such a deep love for the Lord that they were determined to keep God’s commandments no matter what. Jesus spoke of this kind of love in John 14: 15 when He said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” When you really love someone, you will do everything to make him or her happy. You will show your loyalty to them in word, thought, and deed. Nothing will turn you from your love. This is the kind of love Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego had for the Lord. They would defy the king, yes, even in the face of death, and honor their commitment to God.
The king then made a statement that challenged the three Hebrews and challenged the power and majesty of God. He said, “And who is the God who will deliver you from my hands?” Daniel 3: 15. The Hebrews were ready for this challenge. They had been studying, praying, and preparing for just such an event. They had learned through the events of history, the disaster and dishonor that is attached to disobedience to God. This is why they had kept their minds and bodies under subjection to the God of heaven and His authority. They had not compromised their positions in any aspect of their lives, and they were ready now to answer the king’s challenge. They answered calmly, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3: 17,18.
Faith and Persecution
Daniel’s three friends proclaimed to the king their assurance of the saving grace of their God. They knew of His unlimited power to overcome any obstacle in His path, yet they did not try to limit God or be presumptuous in their confidence in His ability to save them. They did, however, make it clear to the king that they would not do as he asked. Notice that their defiance was not against the authority of Nebuchadnezzar as their king. They did not revile him or say that they did not respect him. They were ever respectful and courteous to the king, but made it clear to him why they would not obey. “We do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego had taken a stand against apostasy, against those who would have them believe that strict obedience to God’s commandments is not warranted. They were willing to die, standing for the truth of God, rather than to live bowing to the authority of man. We, too, have this choice in our lives. Men are constantly trying to exult their ideas of proper worship over and above what God says. If we are to be found worthy, by the God of heaven, as these three Hebrews were, we must first know and then keep the commandments of God, loving not our lives to death.
King Nebuchadnezzar was not a happy man. He was so infuriated that he commanded that the fiery furnace be stoked up seven times hotter. As the fire was prepared, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego were bound by the kings’ mighty soldiers. The king then commanded that they be thrown into the furnace.
Have you ever built a bonfire that was so hot that you could not even get very close to it? Imagine a furnace that is at least ten times hotter than any bonfire you have experienced. You would be instantly killed if you got too close to the heat. As the king’s men threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego into the fire, it was so exceedingly hot, that the flames killed them, instantly.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego fell down in the fiery furnace bound from head to toe. There seemed to be no more hope for these three Hebrews. They were now in the fire where their religion had put them . God had not kept them from being placed there. Yet God was still with them. He has promised to be with us through life and even unto death. He has never promised that we would not have to go through the fire of persecution. In fact, the Apostle Paul writes: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3: 12. However, our God is a God of “exceedingly great and precious promises,” (2 Peter 1: 4) that pertain to life and life everlasting. He will always be there to help us through the trials of life and the tribulations of this world.
As King Nebuchadnezzar watched the events unfolding before his eyes, he became astonished and amazed. He could not believe what he now saw in the fire. His soldiers, who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego into the fire, lay dead before the furnace, the breath sucked out of their lungs and their bodies burned from the intense heat. In the fire, however, he saw an astonishing sight. There, in the midst of the flames, walking free of their bonds, were the three worthies, and also another walking in the midst of the flames.
Through his connection with Daniel and his three friends, the king had learned much about their God and the promised Saviour who was to come for the salvation of all who give their lives freely to Him. As he peered into the furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar recognized the Saviour whom he had heard so much about. He hastily spoke to his counselors, those who were instrumental in accusing the three Hebrews, and asked them to clarify what had been done. “‘ Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? ’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king. ’ ‘Look! ’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. ’” Daniel 3: 24, 25.
The king recognized the hand of God at work and called out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego to come from the midst of the fire. He called them the “servants of the Most High God.” The king, for the second time, had been put in contact with the King of the Universe. Again, he had been humbled and given an opportunity to see the power and goodness of God.
When the three men came out of the fiery furnace, all the counselors gathered around them and found not a hair singed, nor any smell of fire on them. It was as if they were never in the fire! “By the deliverance of His faithful servants, the Lord declared that He takes His stand with the oppressed, and rebukes all earthly powers that rebel against the authority of Heaven. The three Hebrews declared to the whole nation of Babylon their faith in Him whom they worshiped. They relied on God. In the hour of their trial they remembered the promise, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. ’ Isaiah 43: 2. And in a marvelous manner their faith in the living Word had been honored in the sight of all. The tidings of their wonderful deliverance were carried to many countries by the representatives of the different nations that had been invited by Nebuchadnezzar to the dedication. Through the faithfulness of His children, God was glorified in all the earth.” Prophets and Kings, 511, by Ellen G. White.
The Lord will not always keep us out of the fire, but He has promised to go with us in the fire. He will be our comfort and our strength. He will guide us and help us through the trials. He will loose our bindings and heal up our wounds as he did for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego.
A New Decree
All thoughts of the great golden image were forgotten. All the ceremony and pomp, which seems to always go along with religions of the State, was ignored as the people and the king were astonished at the turn of events. King Nebuchadnezzar, in humility and reverence, now made a new decree. “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any God except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this. ’” Daniel 3: 28, 29.
It was right for Nebuchadnezzar to confess his mistake before his people, but he had not yet learned the lesson that the Lord was trying to teach him. In making another decree, this time demanding the worship of the God of heaven, he had again become the religious conscience of his subjects. It was no better to demand the worship of the true God of heaven than it was to demand the worship of a golden image of a man. God gives to every man the freedom to worship Him if he chooses, or not to worship him if that is his choice. He does not force worship, but desires that it be from a free and willing heart. If God Himself would not force men to worship Him, why would men presume to do for God would not do Himself? No man, who understands God’s government, can dictate to another how to worship God. We should present the truths of the Word of God, but we should never legislate the worship of God in any way.
Speaking of the last days, which we are now living in, the Bible says: “ . . . and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time, and at that time your people will be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12: 1,10.) A great persecution is coming upon the land, and we need to be ready to stand as Daniel’s three friends stood their trial. According to Bible prophecy, soon a decree will be issued to all of the earth by men who have twisted the Word of God to put forth certain laws that seem to be moral and righteous.
During the Dark Ages, thousands of people lost their lives because they would not submit to the authority of the state. The government ruled both church and state, and decreed how a person should worship and what they should believe. Many false doctrines were promoted in favor of a more widespread influence and the continual growth of the church. These same doctrines have filtered down through the ages and have played a big part in the molding and shaping of the churches today.
Through religion, men, in the last days, will again try to mold and shape the minds of the masses to submit to the false doctrines of men. An “image” will be created in the likeness of these false doctrines. An image does not have to be a statue as was the case in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego; it can be a system that takes its ideas and doctrines from another system. Remember that an image is a likeness of something else. When you look in the mirror, you are not looking at yourself, but at an image of yourself. A photograph of you is not you, but an image of what you look like. So it is with an image of a system. It is not the system itself, but it is made in the likeness of the former system. In Revelation 13, we see two beast powers, one coming from the sea, and the other coming from the earth. All the world worships the first beast power (Revelation 13: 4), but the second beast creates an “image to the first beast” and “exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” Revelation 13: 12.
There are two ways to persuade people to do as you want then to do. You can force them or deceive them. This beast power will use both methods to entice all who dwell on the earth to receive the mark of the beast. He will also use miracles and signs to make the deception appear even more truthful and righteous. “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Revelation 13: 13– 15.
The Apostle Paul, speaking of the same power writes, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” II Thessalonians 2: 9,10.
God is not the only one who can work miracles. Satan uses the senses to deceive people by playing on their emotions. Miracles have become very common these days. We hear about miraculous recoveries from disease, apparitions in the sky, and icons that bleed or cry. We hear of visions appearing on windows and secret messages being given to people by the dead. How do we know what is of God and what is not? The Bible says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is not light in them.” Isaiah 8: 20. We must judge everything by the law of God and the counsel of His prophets. We cannot look to emotion or the excitement of our senses, but to the word of God.
This is very true today as we wade through the mess of truth mixed with error. As the “image” to the beast is set up, we will have to judge the truth, not by what we have been taught or by men’s words (even ministers), but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The deception of our time will be as strong as any time before. This image will be worshipped for one of two reasons, just as in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- Nego. Either we will believe the lie that has been put forth as the majority of the people of Babylon did, or we will submit the authority of governments for our livelihood, as did all those Jews who bowed to the golden image. We have a choice to make in our lives today. Will we stand firm for the truth of God’s word, will we reject the false teachings that are taking over the church today, will we love not our lives to death, or will we give in to the world and the image of the beast? Here is God’s warning for us today. “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Revelation 14: 9,10.
This is the experience of those who will reject the counsel that God is giving today. The image of the beast will appear to provide temporal security for a short span of time, but eternal death will result from following this image. And so God invites you to take your stand for him today, and His promise is, “Though you may be persecuted for My sake, though you may be killed because of your love for Me, I will go through the fire with you, comforting you as you go.” Our choices are clear. One will lead to eternal life with God, no more pain, sorrow, or sickness. The other will lead to everlasting destruction. What will your choice be?
All Bible references are taken from the New King James Bible unless otherwise indicated.