MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 27, 2008 FROM DANIEL 12:1-5
This week we turn to the 12th and final chapter in the book of Daniel. Last week, as we looked at the final section of chapter 11, we saw beginning with verse 36 a significant break separating it from the rest of the chapter. The prophecy up to that point is miraculously accurate in it’s foretelling of events that occurred up to 350 years later. From verse 36 however, the events foretold no longer accurately reflect the historical events surrounding the life and reign of the Syrian king, Antiochus IV. There is an abrupt break in the prophecy’s accuracy there. According to my understanding, the best explanation for that sudden shift is that verses 36-39 function as a summary of the preceding prophecy, a summary that lays particular stress on the spiritual realities that motivated Antiochus.
As we moved to verse 40, we saw that there seems to be another break between that verse and what precedes it. Verse 40 begins with the phrase, “At the time of the end.” That seems to be the Holy Spirit’s way of starting a new section of prophecy that foretells events at a far future time than the events predicted in the preceding verses. As we have seen, the events predicted in the first 35 verses occurred up to the time of about 160 BC. From verse 40 onward, the prophecies have no correlation with what happened in that time period, but as the opening phrase indicates, this section of the book seems to predict events that will occur at the end of this present world.
As we move into chapter 12, it becomes even more apparent that this prophecy, which in chapter 11 begins predicting events before the birth of Christ, is now speaking of yet future events. As we begin 12:1, the opening words are, “At that time…” In light of verse 40, where the prophecy says “At the time of the end” it seems like the events foretold in these next few verses will occur at the end of the age. Let’s read 12:1-4. The angel says to Daniel,
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 4But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase."
Although these verses, like many of the others that precede it, are not easy to interpret, after examining the alternatives, my conclusion is that these verses refer to a future period of history near the end of this age that is often called “the great tribulation.” That period of time, which is seen in other places in the Scripture, will be marked by unique and unprecedented global distress. There are libraries of material that have been written by students of Biblical prophecy on this period of the tribulation discussing questions related to when this time of tribulation will occur and whether the church will or will not go through it. For now, we are simply placing these verses within what I think is the correct prophetic context. There are several reasons why I believe placing these events within the tribulation is the best option.
First, there is very close correlation between the words describing this period of time here in Daniel 12:1 and Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:21 that indisputably speak of a time of great tribulation in the future. There Jesus says, “21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” We know that Jesus is referring to the end of this world because he says in the next verse, “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short. Clearly, Jesus is referring to a global catastrophe of some some sort that threatens the entire human race. Jesus’ words about this period are very similar to Daniel 12:1, “…And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time…” Because Jesus and Daniel together both testify to a tribulation that will be unprecedented—there has never been anything like this on a national scope, there appears to be a correlation between the time Daniel prophecies here and what Jesus foretells about the great tribulation.
Another reason I think this refers to the end-time tribulation foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24 is because the following verses in Daniel 12 clearly place these prophetic events at the end of time. Daniel in verse two speaks of “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” That is a clear reference to the end-time resurrection of the dead at the judgment. In fact, it is arguably the clearest reference to the bodily resurrection of the dead in the entire Old Testament. That doctrine is not explicitly stated very often in the Old Testament, but it is taught in Daniel 12:2 with crystal clarity.
All that explanation hopefully clears the way for us to ask the question—what do these four verses in Daniel chapter 12 mean and what do they mean to us? Although this prophecy predicts a specific and unique series of events that we will examine, these four verses also teach timeless truths applicable to any age or season of history. The main truth could be stated: God is sufficient for his people in times of distress and tribulation and strengthens them with promises of eternal life and glory. With all the technical questions about how best to interpret these verses, there is still much here for us to apply to our lives. I see three supporting truths here that can bring us much comfort in times of trial and tribulation.
The first is in verse one and is simply: God will guard his people in the midst of tribulation so as to limit its intensity and duration. God will limit both the intensity of the tribulation and its duration so that only his purposes are accomplished. In other words, there will be no wasted pain. We saw this earlier in Matthew 24 where Jesus says “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” Verse one says, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people.” As we have seen before, Michael was given a special role in relationship to God’s people. In chapter ten he is described as “your prince” as it relates to the people of God. Here it says in the ESV that he “has charge of your people.” We also know from Daniel that Michael is a mighty warrior in the heavenly realms. In chapter 10 he defeated the angelic Prince of Persia to permit this prophecy to be delivered to Daniel. We know from the book of Jude in the New Testament that Michael personally confronted Satan who, for whatever reasons wanted to steal the body of Moses. Michael brought upon him a rebuke from God and prevented him from doing this. What he does here in relationship to God’s people is not altogether clear. The word translated “has charge of” in the ESV most frequently translated—“to stand.” Michael is said to stand by the people of God in the midst of their coming tribulation.
The word the Holy Spirit uses to describe Michael’s role here is
a bit ambiguous. He could have used a Hebrew word that means “rescue”—which
is what some believers wrongly think this means. The word he uses
here is simply not that strong. He will be with God’s people in the
midst of the tribulation, using his mighty God-given power to intervene when that is God’s will, but this word
does not connote that he will extract God’s people from the tribulation.
We’ve already seen that that’s not necessarily what he does, haven’t we?
If Michael, as the angelic warrior who “has charge of your people” was sent to rescue God’s people
from harm or travail, then why were 85,000 Jews butchered in some of the most cruel torture imaginable at the hands
of Antiochus in about 170 A.D.? Did Michael fail in his job as “rescuer”
The Holy Spirit, in saying that Michael will stand with God’s people in the tribulation is simply communicating that God will supply sufficient supernatural power in the unseen angelic realm so as to sufficiently limit and control the events so that they will bring about his heavenly purposes. In other words, there will be no surprise demonic victories in the heavenly realm that will bring about unnecessary suffering to God’s people on earth. God will spare no heavenly firepower. He will have his mightiest archangel, attending his post to ensure that the suffering that occurs to God’s people will be limited to only that which falls within his sovereignly prescribed limitations. That truth should drive our understanding of the second half of verse two where it says that that at this time of trouble, “your people shall be delivered.”
Some take that word “delivered” to mean that God will remove his people from the earth during the end time period of tribulation through what is often called ‘the rapture.” That is almost certainly taking far too much from this word in light of the rest of Scripture. The only reason I bring this up is not because I have any desire to contend over this issue with other dear brothers and sisters. It becomes an issue because these verses are cited by many as support for the view that the church will not go through the tribulation. In fact, the point of these verses is not that God will snatch his people out of the tribulation, but will instead guard them in the midst of it. I don’t think this verse or any other verse teaches that God’s people—whether believing Jew or Gentile, will be rescued from the great tribulation for several reasons. First, because as we have seen, Michael was “on duty” as the Prince of God’s people during the great upheaval of 170 A.D. and following when thousands were slaughtered and tortured by this godless pagan tyrant, Antiochus. His presence with God’s people in the great tribulation gives no more guarantee of rescue than his presence with God’s people in the tumult of A.D 170.
Second, there is no Biblical pattern of God rescuing his people from tribulation. In fact, he has a well established habit, not of rescuing his people from tribulation, but instead remaining with them in the midst of the tribulation for his glory and their spiritual maturity. We see this truth in several places. Paul says in Philippians 1:29, “29For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” Paul says here that for the sake of Christ, the church has been granted two gifts. First, they are given the capacity to believe the gospel—“it has been granted…that you...believe in him.” Saving faith is a gift of God. But it has also been granted to his church that we suffer for the sake of Christ. Christ is exalted in our trusting in him for salvation and he is also exalted in our suffering for him. It’s in Christ’s interest that we both believe AND suffer for his sake. Jesus expands on that in Matthew 5:11-12 where he tells us that suffering is also in our own eternal best interest. He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” According to Jesus, persecution from those who hate him is not something to be rescued from, but to rejoice over because it brings heavenly reward. Why would God feel compelled to rescue us from something that is in our best eternal interest?
Finally, Jesus says in John 16:33, “ 33I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Jesus predicts tribulation for all of God’s people and says that, rather than seeking to be rescued from it, we should take heart because he has defeated the very enemies who inflict this tribulation. The word of assurance to us in the midst of these times is not that God will rescue us, but that any tribulation we ever go through for the sake of Christ is being perpetrated on us by a defeated foe. That implies that they have absolutely no power to do anything that would eternally threaten us—they are already defeated—the victory over them has already been won. Now, those who hold the position that God’s people will be taken out of the end-time great tribulation know about these verses too. One reason they hold that view in light of these and many other verses that speak of tribulation is that the GREAT tribulation will be unlike any tribulation that has come before it. Although that’s only part of their reason for believing as they do, that position doesn’t seem to take into account the ground of our assurance in the midst of trials in these other verses.
The basis for our hope in the tribulations we may be facing today is not in the fact that they are not as large or sweeping on a global scale as the great tribulation period will be. The basis for our hope in tribulation found in these and other verses is that our heavenly reward will be great as we endure for Christ’s sake and that Christ has overcome the world. That means that irrespective of the size and scope of this final great tribulation period, the ground of the believer’s hope remains the same. No tribulation can be so large as to blunt the truth that to the believer, it brings heavenly reward. Likewise, no tribulation could possibly be so large as to render irrelevant the glorious truth that Christ has overcome those human and demonic forces that are perpetrating the persecution. Whether the tribulation is the great tribulation or a lesser tribulation, Christ has already defeated the enemies who will perpetrate this carnage. Think about it, when the beast and the antichrist appear on this earth, they will do so as those who have already been defeated! Daniel 12 adds to this that his mighty archangel Michael stands with the people of God in the midst of the trial to limit its severity and its duration.
Finally, a verse that is often cited to prove that the church will not go through the great tribulation period is Revelation 3:10 where Jesus says to the church in Philadelphia, “10Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” That verse is held by many in the church to teach that the church will be taken up or “raptured” out of the great tribulation. In fact, it says that God will “keep you.” That verb, when used in the New Testament in contexts of danger never means to extract or rescue, but rather to guard. Jesus says in John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out [rapture] of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” The word translated “keep” there is the same one used by Jesus in Revelation 3:10. The meaning seems clear. That is, in the midst of the tribulation, God will keep or guard his people from any eternal harm, whether they are Jews or Gentiles who have placed their trust in Jesus. In the tribulation, the archangel Michael will be an important tool to accomplish this.
A second truth we see in verses two and three is this: In the midst of tribulation, God provides his people with hope for eternal life and glory in Christ. Daniel is in context speaking of those “whose names are found written in the book” As we see in many places in the Old and New Testament, those whose names are found written in the book are those who have trusted in Christ for salvation. Then he expands on that listing of believers to include all people. He says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of this section on the tribulation, the prophecy brings in the ultimate source of hope and encouragement. That is—that any tribulation in this world is temporary—we will all die and return to the dust and implied in that is the end of pain. The most that this world can do to you is to kill you—after that, their influence over you is finished. But that is not the end of the story. After our bodies (not our souls, but our bodies) sleep in death, there will be a bodily resurrection out of the dust and those who have trusted Christ will be resurrected to everlasting life. These are “those who are wise” according to verse two. We know from chapter 11 that those who are “wise” are those who in the midst of the trials remain faithful to God and his word—those who persevere to the end and by doing so show the genuineness of their faith.
These wise ones shall “shine like the brightness of the sky above.” Jesus is almost certainly alluding to this verse in Matthew 13 within a teaching on the final judgment. He prophesies, “41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” While we are on earth, we are called “the light of the world.” That is, we will through our lives and the confession of our mouths manifest in a limited and imperfect way the radiant glory of Christ. However, when we are united with our glorified, resurrection bodies, we will fully and perfectly show forth the glory of God. This is the hope that Paul presents to those who suffer for Christ in this world in Romans 8:18. He says, “18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
I wonder how many of us in the midst of trials for the sake of Christ, find comfort in the fact that one day, the glory of Christ will be revealed in our resurrected bodies. This must be important because Daniel, Jesus and Paul, among other Biblical authors indicate that this promise should be very hope-giving to us. Is it a comfort to you in the midst of your suffering for Christ to meditate on the glorious truth that one day—you will not sin—you will not grieve your Father, you will not give partial obedience—you will no longer in your self-deception play games with God or struggle with the idols of this world, but you will instead shine with the perfected glory of Christ. When we are experiencing trials, we must draw strength from that blessed promise. This world, with its trials and tribulations is not the end. One day our groaning will be ended and we will fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for us when he created us as we radiate with the perfected glory of His Son.
Perhaps as you sit here, you are thinking, “I know that having an eternal perspective is supposed to be a great source of comfort to me, but frankly, I don’t find it all that motivating.” Why might that be? Let me ask you, how can you have an eternal perspective if you are rapidly accumulating this world’s treasures? That is a way of digging your roots further and further into this world. That is where your treasure is. God mercifully allows trials in our life as a mercy to show us that we are not able to derive the appropriate comfort from living with an eternal perspective. When a person who is not simplifying their life, but piling up the things of this world go through trials and find no real comfort, that is God’s merciful way of communicating to them, “You have placed your treasure on earth—how much comfort are those things bringing to you in this trial?” As we simplify our life and place more and more of our time and energy and passion and even monetary treasure in heaven, that allows us the freedom to lift up our heads and gaze into glory in times of trial.
Notice that connected with this truth is the one in verse three that, “those who turn many to righteousness, [will shine] like the stars forever and ever.” The context in chapter 11 indicates that these “wise ones” who turn many to righteousness are those who help preserve other believers faithful in the midst of tribulation through their example of unflinching devotion to God. However, in light of the context of the great tribulation here in chapter 12, this group also includes those who through their evangelistic life and message have been used by God to bring many people to faith in God through Christ. The message of encouragement is clear. As you work to bring the gospel to others, there will be—even for the most discerning and Spirit-led people witnesses, times of discouragement and outright rejection and estrangement by unbelievers. In those times, look to eternity for comfort—look not at the personal cost of being rejected for Christ—look to heaven where those who turn many to righteousness will shine like stars forever and ever. Do we want that? Doesn’t that motivate us to take risks for Christ?
Finally, notice that those who reject God will be subject to his eternal judgment. The prophecy says they will be condemned to “shame and everlasting contempt.” This judgment is eternal in duration and will bring upon those who undergo it, shame and contempt. The source of that shame and contempt will be God who will mercilessly judge those who reject him. Both the sinner and the saint will be resurrected. The profound difference lies in the eternal disposition of their resurrected bodies. If you are here today and you have not placed your trust in Jesus, then your resurrection will bring you into a time of eternal agony, not bliss. You must trust in Christ today! Confess your sins and receive the forgiveness that he purchased for you on the cross.
A third and final comforting truth is: God provides the promises of his word in the midst of tribulation. This is implied in verse four where God tells Daniel, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end.” We know from the Ancient Near Eastern practice of sealing important documents, that the angel was not telling Daniel to keep this prophecy hidden, under lock and key. The point is that he was to preserve these prophetic predictions so that when they were needed, they would be available for the comfort of God’s people. Indeed, the prophecy in chapter 11 was of great comfort and encouragement to those during the persecution of Antiochus and these and other prophecies in the word of God have been and will continue to be fountains of hope in the midst of current and future tribulation. Likewise, the word of God and the promises of God should bring us great comfort in times of tribulation. How sad that so many of us, when we are going through trials look everywhere for comfort and guidance except the truths and promises in God’s word. God is saying to us through this admonition to Daniel that we are to seal these words in our hearts by memorizing them so that when they are needed, we can draw them out for our comfort and the comfort of others.
As we go through tribulation, whether it is comparatively small or global in proportion, these truths can and should bring us much comfort. That is—that God works in the heavenly realms to limit the severity and duration of those trials so that only his eternal purposes are secured through them—no wasted pain. Second, these trials are only for a season and will one day be swallowed up in victory and we will see the great spiritual harvest they have accomplished in our lives and the lives of others as we by God’s grace shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. Finally that the word of God is available to us whenever we go through tribulations to draw strength from and seal up in our hearts. May God give us the grace to find his comfort in the midst of all tribulation.
Page last modified on 2/3/2008
(c) 2008 - All material is property of Duncan Ross and/or Mount of Olives Baptist Church, all commercial rights are reserved. Please feel free to use any of this material in your ministry.