Have you ever had the experience of feeling like you are coming into the middle of a conversation? Let’s say you are driving in the car with your mate. Your mind is pouring over some problem or issue. Perhaps it is a crisis one of your friends is having. Suddenly, you say to your spouse, “What do you think we can do for so-and-so?” Your spouse looks at you and says, “What? “What in the world are you talking about?” The conversation that made perfect sense to you; seems completely random to them.
If you turn to Daniel 12 without being aware of chapters 10 and 11 you will feel like you are coming into the middle of the conversation because . . . well, that’s exactly what is happening. In chapter 11 a historical timeline was set up that concluded with the Antichrist bringing all kinds of heartache to the world and especially the land of Israel. He has “pitched his royal tents” near the place of the temple mount in Jerusalem. Believers are being killed and this new and powerful King is sweeping across the world. The chapter ends with these words, “Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him.” (11:45)
As we move to chapter 12 the story continues,
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (Daniel 12:1-4)
This is a passage rich with important information. We learn several things. First, There will be a time of great distress. This distress will be greater than anything that has ever taken place. In other words it will be more devastating than the Japan earthquake and tsunami, more devastating than the atomic bomb, more devastating than all the World Wars together!
Second, we see that this devastation comes from the Lord. These things that will take place are a judgment from God! These things happen when the angel Michael arrives on the scene.
If you read the book of Revelation you see that the Judgments described are very similar to the ten plagues in Egypt except exponentially worse. We read about a third of the earth being burned up or a fourth of the people dying. The descriptions are terrifying. This is the beginning of the Lord’s Judgment. It is sent to either awaken people to repentance or justly judge them for their sin. The message is pretty clear: God takes sin seriously! We dare not conclude that because God does not judge sin immediately that He will not judge it at all. He will indeed.
Third, we are told that those who have their name written in the book will be delivered. Think about if you went to the White House. You would be stopped at the front gate. If your name was not written on the visitor list, you will not be allowed to enter. It won’t matter how close you claimed to be to the President, or how fervently you claim the President was expecting you, you would not get in!
There will be many, who believe they are followers of Christ because they have joined a church, or they have donated money to a church cause, or because they are well respected, or even because they have tried to live a good and moral life. Jesus warns us about that final day,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
People will think their names are written in the book but will find out they are mistaken! So the most important question becomes: How do you get on the list? There is only one who can write our name on that list and that is the Father Himself. He sent Jesus to invite us to be a part of His family. Only those who admit their inability to save themselves and who embrace Jesus as their Rescuer and their King will find their names on the list. It is not merely about profession . . . it is about entering into a life-altering relationship with God.
We are told that those whose names are written in the book will be “delivered”. Many believe Christians will be spared this distress because of a secret event called the “rapture” (this was the premise of the “Left Behind” books). In other words, Christians will literally be removed from the earth and be spared this time of great tribulation.
There are other places in the Bible (like Matthew 24) where it appears Christians will have to go through the Tribulation. It will be the time when the “wheat is separated from the chaff” or the true believers are separated from the pretenders. If that is the case, then the promise is that we will be delivered by being given God’s protection and supernatural strength.
Next we are told that when this tribulation is completed, people will be resurrected. This troubles some people because they conclude that once we die we are asleep or unconscious until this resurrection. The Bible teaches (I believe) that when we die we go to be with the Lord. We are in a spiritual state but fully conscious and aware of being in God’s presence. After the Second Coming we will be given new bodies so we can live on a new (or purified) earth where we will live in fellowship with God. (Perhaps similar to the kind of relationship Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden where we are told they walked with God and engaged in productive labor).
Note something: Daniel is told that both true believers and those who were not real believers will be physically raised from the dead. Those who have not followed and trusted Christ will be sent to shame and everlasting contempt. Let this sink in. There are many who believe that we live, we die, and that is the end of the story. That is not what God is telling us here. We will all live forever either in blessing or in shame and contempt. The point is this: Hell is not a game! It goes on FOREVER! How we respond to the message of Jesus Christ is a “high stakes” venture. It may seem like no big deal to you . . . but the Bible says it is a bigger deal than anything in this world can ever come close to. We must make EVERY effort to share the message of the gospel with our friends and family!
Daniel is told,
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever
Our job is to shine. Jesus has called us to be the “light of the world”.
Daniel is told to seal up the words (12:4). Some conclude Daniel was not supposed to tell anyone what he was told (which would mean Daniel didn’t do what he was told). I don’t think that is the case. In the ancient Near East, important documents would be copied and then one copy would be sealed. It was kept in a safe place so that it might be consulted if there was ever a question as to what was promised (kind of like how the county keeps the record of your birth certificate or marriage license). Daniel is to seal up these words because it is a “done deal”. It has been decided. God wanted to make sure that people could look back and see that He did what He said He would do.
We are also told that people will search all over to gain understanding. There is a God-sized hole in every person. We can try to fill it with the various trinkets that Satan dangles before us. We can numb ourselves with the pleasures of this world. We can run fast and live hard. We can wear ourselves out trying to climb the ladder of success. However, the only thing that will fill the hole is to have a relationship with God and this can happen only through Jesus. This isn’t a one time event . . . it is life-altering.
Marriage is not something that happens because you say “I do” in a wedding ceremony. Marriage is entering into a deep and committed relationship with another person. The same is true of a relationship with Christ. God calls us into a life-changing relationship with Him.
5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?”
7 The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”
8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”
9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.
11 “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.
13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” [4-13]
Daniel has been listening to an angel during this vision (Daniel 10:5). Now two additional angels seem to join the group on each side of the river. One asked the angel above the river: “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?”
The question is: “Which astonishing things” is he talking about? The prophecy in chapter 11 talked about Persian and Greek Kings, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Antichrist, and concludes in this chapter with the Tribulation and Day of Judgment. Most people seem to think this is referring to this time of Judgment. To be honest, I’m not all that sure what it all means.
Note two things: First, Daniel is confused by it all. He does not know how all of this is going to work out. I find great comfort in Daniel’s confession of ignorance because these words confuse me too. However, just because something is confusing or seems far-fetched doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
This is going to date me, but I remember when I first heard the talk that everyone would have a computer in their home. That talk seemed insane. Computers at that time filled entire rooms! I remember how talk of portable phones and computers you could hold in your hand seemed ridiculous. Now cell phones and iPads are more powerful than the computers used to send men to the moon! Just because some things seem impossible doesn’t mean they are not going to happen.
Second, Daniel is told to “go your way until the end”. I read this as the angel saying, “Look, Daniel, don’t worry too much about these things. You keep serving the Lord. Keep being faithful. Keep your eyes (and your heart) open. And when it is all said and done . . . you won’t have anything to worry about.
I think the Lord says the same thing to us: “Don’t worry about what you do not understand. Act on what you do understand! Be faithful to the Lord! Keep digging and learning but don’t fixate here . . .keep doing what is right! The story is not over! Don’t give up!
Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew Jesus Christ was going to return the next day. His answer was, “I would plant a tree.” A tree takes decades to grow. Martin Luther was saying it does not matter if Jesus is coming back tomorrow, a hundred years from now, or a thousand years from now. We must go our way and live our life.
No matter what the task we undertake if you look too far ahead it is easy to get overwhelmed. A college student looking at the syllabus for the upcoming semester can become overwhelmed by everything they have to do. They have to learn to take it one assignment at a time.
A person facing a major health issue can be overwhelmed with how far away the goal seems to be. They too must learn to take it one day at a time. They need to keep making progress.
The challenge is to dig in and keep moving forward. All the prophecies at the end of Daniel can psych us out. We can become overwhelmed by all the symbols, the magnitude of the task at hand, or the enormity of what is ahead. Our job is simple: keep moving forward. We don’t know when the final events of prophecy will take place, and though we need to be watching and waiting, we shouldn’t be worried about it. God will take care of the future. Our job is to serve Him as faithfully as we can in the present.
The book of Daniel has been filled with stirring visions and bold prophecies. Think about it, we actually can understand much more than Daniel did because we have the benefit of history! As we look back on the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome we see that many of these prophecies now make perfect sense. We must not be discouraged at the words that confuse us related to the future. Someday, they too will make perfect sense.
As we reach the end of our study I hope two things happen. First, I hope this study has led some of you to realize that you need a real relationship with God. I hope you have seen that only the God of the Bible knows the future. He alone is worth pursuing. His provision of a Savior is something that should change us forever.
You see, this book is not just about the times of Daniel. It is also about us. We are called to choose a side of the fence. We are either with the Lord or we stand against Him. There is no middle ground! Only Jesus can provide what you and I desperately need: a new beginning and a new strength living in us to help us. You can embrace that help, or you can push it away. Those are the only two alternatives.
I encourage you to open your heart to Him. Pledge your love and commitment to Him in the same way you pledged your love to your spouse. Enter into a relationship with Him. Believe His promise that you have been forgiven through Christ. Trust that He will lead you by His Holy Spirit. Open your heart and invite Him in. Begin to walk with Him today.
Second, I hope the study of Daniel has challenged you to a renewed commitment. We see in Daniel and his friends a bold example of consistency in a godless and sometimes religiously hostile world. They stood firm as the culture sought to make them conform. They refused to compromise their faith even though they faced a blazing furnace, a Lion’s Den, and the most people of the land. Their allegiance was unwavering. I hope you have been challenged to follow their example. Jesus has called us to stand out like a light in the world.
Do you know why we felt it was important to study the book of Daniel? It is because the greatest need in our world right now is for Christian people to actually stand for and with Christ. It is time to be done with the common practice of pushing Christ aside so we can chase the trinkets of life. It is time for us to recognize that the ONLY thing that matters when all is said and done, is being faithful to Him. EVERYTHING is a distant second to honoring Him. We desperately need passionate followers of Christ.
I encourage you to rededicate your life to Christ. Confess those areas where you have become soft in your commitment to Him. Re-prioritize your calendar. Strengthen your resolve to seek the Lord in prayer and the Word of God. Remind yourself that your job is to be in the world but not to be like the world. We must stand as a beacon of faithfulness and commitment in a world that wants us to do just the opposite.
Daniel and his friends became faithful heroes because they chose to trust God rather than embrace the contemporary trends. They chose spiritual integrity over popularity. They chose to believe God rather than the empty promises of a lost world. They chose to stand with the Lord rather than cave in to the threats of the power brokers. These decisions made them who they were. And we have been blessed because of it.
Now it is our turn to make a decision. It is our time to decide whether we will stand or whether we will fold under the pressure. What we decide will go a long way in determining the kind of world our children inherit, and where we will spend eternity. It is not only a big decision . . . it is the biggest.