Who was the fourth man, walking about unharmed in the midst of a blazing fire?
To address this, we need to set some background.
When King Nebuchadnezzar first heard Daniel’s interpretation of his troubling dream, He gave glory to the God of heaven. Only a God far greater than the gods he had been worshiping would be able to read his mind to reveal the actual dream, then interpret the mystery of its meaning.
But as time went on, the king began to consider his position as the golden head at the top of the dream’s human statue. His was truly the greatest of the interpreted four great world empires to come, and he was its indisputable leader. Now that he had confirmation of his dominance, perhaps he was due for a little worship himself. He built a ninety-foot (30 meter) statue of gold on a plain and decreed that everyone in the land should come and worship it.
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made a statue of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits, and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:1 (NASB)
The king made a decree that anyone who does NOT worship his stature would be tossed into a furnace of fire and burned to death.
This presented a crisis for Daniel’s friends, who had been placed in positions of authority over that area. They were faithful worshipers of the Lord, and as such were not permitted to worship any other god, per the first commandment.
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:2-3 (NASB)
Other of the king’s advisors brought the young mens’ situation to the attention of the king.
14 Nebuchadnezzar began speaking and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods, nor worship the golden statue that I have set up? Daniel 3:14 (NASB)
With their lives on the line, Daniel’s three friends exhibited great faith, bravery, and determination in resisting the temptation to go along with the king to disobey God and worship the golden statue. Instead of giving in to avoid the sentence of death, they stayed true to God Almighty and trusted Him to deliver them, be it in this life or the next.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods nor worship the golden statue that you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 (NASB)
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. Daniel 3:19 (NASB)
The three faithful friends were bound and carried off to die. As the king had demanded, the fire in the furnace was heated to such a point that even the act of casting these three into the fire caused the men who threw them in to burn up.
22 For this reason, because the king’s command was harsh and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. 23 But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell into the middle of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.
24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up quickly; he said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the middle of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Absolutely, O king.” 25 He responded, “Look! I see four men untied and walking about in the middle of the fire unharmed, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” Daniel 3:22-25 (NASB)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were seen loose, unharmed, and actually walking around within the furnace. And there was a mysterious fourth man walking with them.
When the three young men emerged:
27 … the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men, nor was the hair of their heads singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had even the smell of fire touched them. Daniel 3:27 (NASB)
But who was the fourth man?
Someone much more powerful than even the hottest of fires. Someone sent from heaven in answer to the prayers of these three faithful men. The fourth man looked glorious, like someone who was a “son of the gods”.
Was this a powerful angel? Was it the divine Angel of the Lord, who is perhaps Christ Himself in pre-incarnate form? Who do you think it is?
Even in the midst of our burning fire, the Lord has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will be present to comfort, heal, restore, and preserve us. He will faithfully bring us through our trial, no matter how difficult or hopeless it may seem. And He will hold us close until the fire is out, and all is safe and secure around us.
Father, give us the strength to stay faithful to You when it would be so much easier to turn away to follow after the crowd. Forgive us for our failures and help us to walk close to the path You have prepared for us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.