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TEXT: Daniel 12:5-13
SUBJECT: Daniel #13: Contentment and Understanding
God wants us to study the Bible and to understand it. On this point, all Christians agree and for which most of us ought to apologize. We haven't studied the Word of God with the care and zeal and humility we should have, and the understanding we have is a small fraction of what it would be if we had. Every one of us ought to practice what Paul told Timothy to do--
Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that does not have to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The Bible is mysterious and some parts are harder to understand than others, but the main cause of our ignorance is not in the Bible, but in ourselves. We're lazy and occupied with lesser things and, and most of the time, most of us savor the things of man more than the things of God. I myself am guilty of these things--and I'm not the only one.
If most Christians are this way, some are the other way. They are keenly interested in the Bible and spare no effort to find out what it means. If they stopped there, they would be worthy of our highest praise.
They don't stop there. They go from study to speculation. Given enough time and imagination, they uncover all the hidden things in the Bible--including the ones that aren't there. If they kept their bizarre findings private, they'd hurt no one but themselves: But, of course, they never do! Like the leper who was told not to tell anyone what Jesus did for him, they--
Begin to publish it much and to blaze it abroad!
I suppose any Bible doctrine can be abused in this way, but we all know which one has been abused the most. Scholars call it Eschatology or the Doctrine of Last Things.
What does the Bible teach about the future? For the most part, it teaches the future is known only to God He has revealed some of it to us, but most of it He has kept to Himself. This means we ought to understand what He has revealed about the future and leave it there--
Secret things belong to the Lord our God,
But the things that are revealed belong to us.
Had Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and Mark Baker Eddy followed this rule, there would be no Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses to plague the Church today and to put men's souls in grave danger.
Closer to home, had Harold Camping been content with what the Bible teaches, Family Radio would be the blessing it used to be instead of the divisive and ridiculous thing it has become.
We need to understand what the Bible teaches about the future and also content with it. This is the parting message of Daniel's last vision. And one not every student thereof has learned.
Before we get to the verses, let's remember where they are: vv.5-13 are part of the sprawling vision that began in 10:1. What's it about?
It's about the conflict between God and His people and their enemies, first the Persians, then the Greeks. Some of the conflict is spiritual, the enemies are not men but angels, even archangels. As Paul says many years later--
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.
If some of the conflict is in the heavens some of it is more down to earth Chapter 11 is mostly about human kings visiting pain and death on God's people. Persian kings to some extent, but mostly the Greeks, especially Antiochus IV, whom Jay Adams has rightly called--
The Antichrist of the Old Testament.
What is the message of these long and complicated chapters? Psalm 34:19 sums it up well--
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers them out of them all.
The message is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it is realistic. The People of God are called to suffer in this world, but our suffering will not last forever: We will be delivered--
Lift up your heads, for your redemption draws nigh.
The prophecies were fulfilled in the 2nd Century BC, when the Greek tyrant was finally defeated and Judah regained its freedom to serve the Lord in His appointed way.
Vv.5-13 are not redundant; they add to the vision, but they're also a part of it. This means we mustn't import other doctrines or scenarios or time-frames into it. The prophecy clearly speaks to Daniel's future, but not to ours, except insofar as every Deliverance points to the last one, when Christ delivers us from every enemy, up to and including Death.
THE MAIN CHARACTERS
In the last part of the vision, there are four main characters, at least two of whom we've already met.
First, we have Daniel. He's a devout Jew who was carried away into Exile when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, and there he has been for more than seventy years, serving pagan kings without compromising his integrity. For the last couple of years, the old man has been living a well-earned retirement.
But though he's retired from serving the kings, he is still in the King's service. Even in his eighties, he is fasting and mourning and praying--and seeing visions of things terrible and splendid. He's the first character in this part of the vision.
The second is the man clothed in linen. We've met him before, back in the first part of Chapter 10. Who is he? People who know more than I do think the Man is God or Christ, and they think so because his description looks a lot like God in Ezekiel 1 and Christ in Revelation 1. I respect their opinion and don't rule it out, but I also don't agree with it.
It seems to me that for every problem this view solves, it creates many more. Thus, I take this Man to be a Cherub, a Heavenly Servant who stands before God in Heaven's Inner Sanctum. Why is he wearing linen? That's the ceremonial costume of a priest who also enjoys the Presence of God as other men don't.
The third and fourth characters are unnamed, though they, too, seem to be angels. Each stands on either side of the Tigris River--and one of them is a curious fellow.
Not even angels know everything and there's something he's been wondering about through the long vision, v6b--
How long shall the fulfillment of these wonders be?
The angel is curious, but his curiosity is not idle. It's a serious question he puts to the Man in Linen and the Man takes it seriously. Unfallen angels are not given to lying, but what he's about to say is so important that He raises his hand--both of them, in fact--to swear a solemn oath. How long will the troubles last for Israel, v.7--
A time, times, and half a time.
The answer seems to satisfy the angel, but it leaves us more bewildered than ever. What does it mean?
Well, in the first place, it cannot mean what most American Evangelicals say it does, that is, the last three and a half years before the Second Coming of Christ, also known as the Great Tribulation. Why not? Because the Second Coming of Christ is not what the vision is about; it's about Daniel's future, but not ours.
Wherever they place the time in history, most conservative Christians understand time, times, and half a time to mean 'three and a half years'. This seems also to more-or-less fit the days mentioned in v.11.
More in its favor is the known facts of the persecution of Antiochus IV, which lasted about three-and-one-half years, starting in 168 BC.
Thus, I think it may well mean this, and this would add to the luster of God's foreknowledge--knowing not just the future in general, but down to the last day.
Still, I'm reluctant to come down on this side because it seems unwise to me to take time spans literally in a genre characterized by symbolic numbers. And that's what the visions or Daniel are: Apocalyptic; on this point all scholars agree.
Besides, what really matters in the last part of v.7. The persecution that goes on and on through time, times, and half a time, will end exactly when--
The power of the holy people has been completely shattered.
God will not deliver His people until they finally renounce their own power and strategy and fighting spirit; not even their prayers and piety will deliver them. When they realize this--in other words, when they're at the end of themselves, then He will act on their behalf.
This is not a new idea at all; as early as Deuteronomy 32:36, Moses says--
For the Lord will judge His people
and have compassion on His servants,
when He sees their power is gone.
The problem with God's people--then, now, and always--is not that we're too weak, but that we're too strong! We're too self-sufficient for God to use us; it's not until we're broken, till we despair of ourselves, that He goes to work on us making us what we ought to be.
It is not until an alcoholic says, 'I can't stop drinking' that he does stop drinking. It's not until he says 'I am powerless' that he finds power. AA is not a distinctly Christian organization, but its founder, Bill Wilson, was, and he knew his New Testament better than most of us do, II Corinthians 12:9, Jesus said--
My strength is made perfect in your weakness.
The angel has been answered. Whatever time, times, and half a time means, Judah will be saved from their enemies when they give up the hope of saving themselves.
If the angel has been answered, Daniel hasn't been. Unlike the angel, he's not so worried about the time of Israel's deliverance, as he is in the way God is going to do it.
V.8 is somewhat confusing in the KJV and the NKJV. In these translations, it asks basically the same question as v. 7. The NIV and the ESV put it better--
What shall be the outcome of these things?
Daniel got an answer, but not what he was looking for. To put it in plain English, the Cherub said, 'None of your business', v.9--
Go your way Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.
This is good advice to all Christians who are more curious than they need to be about the future, and in particular, the events near the Second Coming of Christ. God will keep His word, but He will keep it in ways we cannot imagine and don't need to think about.
In the meantime, God is going to use these hard days to separate the true Israelite from the false. The people who truly belong to God will be--
Purified, made white, and refined.
Those who just 'say they do' will be tested by the hard times and proven false, hypocrites whose words are devoted to God but whose hearts are not.
The angel, though not human, seems to have a touch of humanity in him. His conversation with Daniel has ended somewhat rudely, 'none of your business' seems a harsh way to end his talk with a man so greatly loved in Heaven.
He gives him a little taste of the future, vv.11-12. From the time Antiochus puts an end to the daily sacrifices, that is, by setting up an image of Zeus in the Temple and offering a pig on the altar, Israel will suffer another 1290 days, or perhaps six weeks more. And then the tyrant will be destroyed.
As I said earlier, this pretty much fits the chronology scholars have put on it, but, again, whether the days should be read literally or more figuratively, one thing is clear, Psalm 31:15--
Our times are in God's hand.
Evil will triumph only as long as God permits it to, and only until it unintentionally serves His holy purposes. This was good to know in Daniel's time and not only his. The Good God is sovereign over all things including evil, sin, sickness, death, and the devil. Like the raging waters of Galilee, serve us well, by scaring us out of our complacency, by increasing our faith, and making us worship the One who stills the sea.
The Lord wants you to live in the present, not worrying about what shall we eat, what shall we drink, or what shall we wear, but being content to pray for our daily bread and then to eat it thanksgiving.
Has He told us anything about the future? Yes He has, but not much, and not always what we'd most like to know. But be content with what He has told us! When it comes to Eschatology, be content with the plain meaning of the Bible. If you get a couple things wrong that way, you'll make far more mistakes speculating, and the mistakes will be of a darker and more harmful character.
How can we be content not knowing what will become of us? Because we do know what will become of us! Everyone who believes in Christ has already been united to Him, and that means His Eschatology is the same as yours. What happened to Jesus after He died? He rose from the dead, and not to the puny life He had before, but to the fullness of life, a life as indestructible as God Himself!
The life He has now, we will have when He comes again, whether that's in five minutes or five billion years.
Be content and be thankful. Whatever the short term future holds, our long term future is sure. Our lives end like the fairy tale--
And they all lived happily ever after.
Amen. Praise the Lord!
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