What if an angel were to say this to you, “O man [or woman] greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.”
Wow—“greatly loved”—what a tag! It’s a greeting given to Daniel three times in Daniel 9-10, first by the angel Gabriel and then by another heavenly speaker who might have been Christ in a Christophany. “Greatly loved” is such a powerful heavenly accolade for a mere human!
It’s especially surprising since many folks today believe God’s love is absolutely flat: a love spread evenly to all humans. As in, “God loves everyone!” The idea is usually pitched under the language of the Greek ‘agape’ made out to be a love-of-the-will. And with this broad-brush and disaffected love he never favors one person above any other.
To a skeptical ear this sort of love amounts to bland religious rhetoric that dissipates relationship in favor of empty religion. And by contrast it elevates the words given to Daniel. God’s love is actually specific and openly affectionate. It represents devotion much closer to the mutual love of a bride and groom on their wedding day than to the disaffected let-me-provide-for-your-needs ‘love’ of traditional religion.
It’s certainly true that in John 3:16—“For God so loved the world”—God’s expansive love was offered to the world through Jesus. But within that love God still discriminates among the lovely, the ordinary, and the awful—God actually has favorites! He cares for his creation with an ideal goodness in view: the “good works he prepared beforehand for us to walk in them.” And when sin took over the world he grieved, not wishing that any should perish. He’s a jealous God.
So it’s important that we recognize our part in the exchange of affective love. While the Father loves us, his love starts with and comes to us through the Son as the Spirit’s outflow of the Christ-to-God union.
Yet we can despise the Son—and, in fact, everyone does from Adam’s failure onward. Jesus became our competition as one who confronts our rebellion and pride. He properly insists on maintaining his divine role among us: he’s God and we aren’t!
So when some of us—and only some—finally have our eyes opened by the Spirit’s awakening and spirit-prodding work we repent. And with that we finally see the Son’s inimitable beauty and goodness. He becomes our heart-captivating presence.
So while the nations rage against him many of us are drawn to love him—to “kiss the Son.” And in that response God shows his work of sifting wheat from chaff. As John wrote in his gospel prologue none of this is by “the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
With that premise in mind let’s track John’s progression. When Jesus spoke of God’s love for the world in John 3 these were not his last words. He later makes a clear demarcation between “the world” and those “not of this world” in John 17. His original offer of love to “the world” narrowed in John 3:19 when “the world” rejected Jesus and “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” God won’t force himself on us if his love isn’t reciprocated.
So what made Daniel “beloved”? And, to add another Bible favorite, why did God refer to David as “a man after his own heart”? How are some saved while others remain hardened? We don’t have a final answer. Yet the stark summary in Matthew 22:14—“Many are called but few are chosen”—is set in a parable that pits human disaffection against Divine mercy. He saves by his own gracious choosing, and not many of his “elect” are wise, powerful, or impressive.
And so we have in David and Daniel relationships that display human reciprocity. Once we’re alive to God in Christ we have the freedom and invitation to be bold in our responses. Real love is never flat! It’s always strong, bold, and rich in passion. And God, with the angels in heaven, liked what they saw in Daniel! So the Bible report of Daniel’s dramatic greetings calls out to us. Who else had a reputation in heaven as “greatly loved” by God and his angels?
I, for one, want that for myself. I want everything our wonderful Lord has to offer! And as many hearts are joined together with a passion for Jesus burning bright, angels will enjoy watching us and cheering us on!