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On The Presence of God

In my opinion, Daniel 3 offers the richest public witness of the presence of God in Babylon and the tremendous blessing of being a servant of God. Indeed, in this chapter we have two public witnesses of the presence of God in Babylon: the fire that doesn’t consume and the Son of God. And this public witness casts our vision forward to the great blessing of how the Son of God forever overpowers the consuming fire of judgment. Let’s reflect briefly first on the fire, then on the Son of God, and finally on this chapter’s significance for us.

Evoking the burning bush of Exodus 3, the burning fiery furnace is a non-consuming fire for these men. Just like the bush that should have burned, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego should have perished. That they did not perish indicates that there is something greater than the fire itself: the one who has power over the fire. Thus, the fire that doesn’t consume points to the presence of the one who has made and sustains all things by the word of his power. Indeed, you can think of this as a fire that doesn’t consume or a fuel that is constantly sustained. Either way, the point is that God has power over his own creation.

But you might object: what about those mighty men who were clearly consumed by this fire? In Exodus 3, God tells Moses not to draw near because the place is holy ground. That is to say, the fire of God’s presence was not safe. Had he arrogantly drawn near, the book of Exodus would have told a different story.

This then prompts a follow-up question: what makes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so special that they would be preserved from such holy fire? That question leads us to the second public witness of the presence of God, the Son of God who meets with God’s servants in the fire.

Now, remember that Nebuchadnezzar is a pagan, and so his perception of the world and his vocabulary to describe the world are likely to be different than the perception and vocabulary of those who serve the one true God. That said, when he peers into the fire and sees a fourth figure, he says this: “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Dan 3:25 ESV).

Vern Poythress explains what’s going on here well: “The description ‘like a son of the gods’ comes from the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar, who is a polytheist. So he is thinking of a plurality of ‘gods.’ But when we reinterpret it in terms of the monotheism of Daniel and the rest of the Bible, we see a clear anticipation of Christ and his title, ‘Son of God.’”[1]

What is being communicated, therefore, in this narrative is that there is a powerful mediator who makes the difference between a fire that consumes and a fire that does not. The takeaway is not that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were holy; it’s that there is one who enables us to stand in the holy presence of God without fear of being consumed: the Lord Jesus Christ.

While it will take a number of centuries to elapse before the full significance of this joining of holy fire and a holy mediator is made plain, on this side of the cross we have the privilege of knowing that the sin which prevents us from standing in the presence of God has been covered by the holy mediator who though he knew no sin became sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). And we continue to stand in the holy presence of God because our mediator continually intercedes for us. We need not wonder if the holy fire of God will one day begin to have power over us because our holy mediator constantly abides in us and with us.

More than that, we find ourselves in a better position than Moses because of our holy mediator. Though he was warned not to draw near to the burning bush, we are exhorted to draw near to the presence of God. Because we have a sympathetic high priest, who is our holy mediator, we hear this call: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:14 ESV). Such is our relationship to the presence of God. May we make the most of it.

[1] Vern S. Poythress, Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 327.

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