MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 3, 2008 FROM DANIEL 12:5-13

 

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"Daniel an Epilogue"

MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 3, 2008 FROM DANIEL 12:5-13

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          This morning we hope to finish the book of Daniel.  My hope is that the truths you have discovered through our study will continue to bless you in the future. The final section of the book is written to provide a summary of the book and especially of the last three chapters.  The main topic of all these final chapters in Daniel is related to this long and detailed prophecy that we have seen in chapter 11.  You’ll recall that the prophecy deals with two very distinct periods of history—one in the past, the other in the future.  The first period of history prophesied is the one from Daniel’s lifetime up through the next 350 years.  The most detailed section of that first part of the prophecy is the foretelling of those events that we now know occurred during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Around 170 BC this Syrian king massacred and tortured tens of thousands of Jews, especially those in and around Jerusalem.  In chapter 11, that period of great agony for God’s people is foretold in detail along with the chain of historic events which led up to it.  I believe the latter part of this prophecy also foretells events in our future at the end of this age.  As we said last week, the most reasonable conclusion about the meaning of Daniel 11:40-12:4 is that the prophecy foretells the last days of history commonly called “the Great Tribulation.” 

          This week we meet Daniel in the final section of the book.  Daniel has just received the prophecy and the gruesome details of the future sufferings of his people would have been horrifically traumatic for a devout Jew to hear.  We see him where we he was standing at the beginning of the prophecy in chapter 10--on the bank of the Tigris River.  You’ll recall Daniel there is dumb-struck because of his encounter with an angelic figure clothed in linen who seems to possess almost God-like qualities.  Beginning with verse five Daniel records, “5Then I, Daniel, looked, and behold, two others stood, one on this bank of the stream and one on that bank of the stream.  6And someone said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream, "How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?"  

That sets the stage for us.  The being dressed in linen remains and is apparently hovering over the river.  However, two new and unnamed angels have now appeared.  The final prophetic narrative of the book begins with someone—presumably one of these new angels, asking a very reasonable question in light of what has been prophesied about the future.  That is—“how long shall it be till the end of these wonders?”  The angel wants to know the same thing we would have wanted to know and what Daniel doubtless wanted to know.  That is—when will all these things be fulfilled?  Whenever we hear a report of something interesting that will happen in the future, the first question we ask is—when will this be?  The rest of this section records the less than complete response God gives to this question as well as his response to another very predictable question Daniel asks about the future events he has heard about.

Daniel continues his account in verse seven, “ 7And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.  8I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, "O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?"  9He said, "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.  10Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.  11And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.  12Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.  13But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days."

          I want us to focus on one major truth revealed in these verses.  That is:  God does not call us to find satisfaction and release from our anxieties in times of trial by getting all our questions answered, but in God himself and his faithfulness to his promises.  We see that in this text repeatedly.  God is asked two very specific questions in verse six and verse eight.  His answer to both of those questions is not only not satisfying to Daniel, they aren’t even meaningful.  He doesn’t even understand what is meant by them, much less is he able to take any comfort from them.  The questions are straight forward and to the point.  God’s answers are ambiguous and even cryptic.  God’s response to the questions in these verses exemplifies the truth in Deuteronomy 29:29.  That is, “29The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.  There are some things that are revealed and others that are held in secret by God until he is ready to reveal them.  This story illustrates that truth.

          When one of the angels asks the question in verse six, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?”  he gets a curious response.  Notice an angel from God asks the question—he doesn’t seem to know any more than Daniel at this point.  The top ranking angel responds to the question by raising both hands toward heaven to signify that he is placing himself under a solemn oath and pronounces that it will be for “a time, times, and half a time.”  We have seen that expression before in Daniel.  In 7:25 we saw the “little horn” who is prophesied as this future dark and evil figure who would come and “make war with the saints and prevail over them.”  In verse 25 it says of him, “25He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.”  

          Today it is popular among many evangelical to interpret this time period of “time, times and half a time” as three and a half years and to further speculate that this time period refers to a tortuously difficult three and a half year period within the Great Tribulation at the end of time.  This understanding holds that a “time” is one year, “times” is two years, and “half a time” is a half a year.  This three and a half year period reckoning may be valid, but the Hebrew word translated “time” is a strange choice of words to communicate one year.  The literal Hebrew word for “year” was available to the author, but Daniel chose not to use it.  Instead he chose a word that is much more ambiguous.  The Greek translation of the word literally means, “season.”  It seems to be intentionally chosen to communicate a season of time that is limited.  It does not go on forever—it is for a time, another time and then, the third season of time will be half the length of the first.  It’s seems more safe to say that this expression communicates that this future time period of great suffering will not be indefinite.  It is doubtless a longer period of time than those who will be suffering in the midst of it would desire, but it will not go on forever.  That seems to be the intent of the author.

          After giving that reference to time, the angel then gives Daniel and us an historical landmark by which to know when the time will be over.  It’s as if the angel knows the reference to time is ambiguous, so he clarifies in effect saying, “It will be clear that this time of future suffering will be over when THIS happens.  And the THIS he refers to specifically is, “when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end.”  THAT’S when it will be over.  You’ll notice that Daniel’s response to that is NOT, “Thanks, that clears it right up.”  Just the opposite is the case.  He says in verse eight, “I heard but I did not understand.”  These words about the “time, times and half a time” and the reference to the future “shattering of the power of the holy people coming to an end” didn’t help Daniel one iota.  He very clearly says, “I don’t get it.”  Now, I cautiously hold an opinion about what is meant by this cryptic phrase “the shattering of the power of the holy people” coming to an end.  I think it may refer to the great suffering of God’s people in the midst of the Great Tribulation that is to come at the end of this age.  When it seems like the people of God are totally demoralized and defeated, that’s when this time of suffering will be ended by God.  I think it may mean that.

          But may I suggest that knowing whether that is a valid understanding of this phrase or not is not nearly as important as discovering the truth that is taught in this interaction between God and Daniel here.  Think about it.  Daniel has just heard this very long, detailed prophecy and on the whole, it paints an intensely dismal picture of what will happen to his people in the future.  As we saw last week, they will be ravaged and persecuted and trodden down by the wicked rulers of this world.  Then, Michael the archangel will finally come and deliver them just before the final judgment of God.  After hearing that report, another angel asks this ruling angel how long this will time of agony for God’s people will last.  At that, you must believe Daniel was thinking, “Great question—thanks God for sending this angel—I can’t wait to hear your answer.”  But the answer that he provides doesn’t satisfy Daniel in the least.  He is still clueless.  Daniel is obviously still very troubled and intensely concerned about this matter so he asks a follow up question in verse eight.  “Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?”  In other words—Daniel is asking, “If I can’t discover how long it will be, then at least give me the bottom line.  That is, “what is the result of all of this—how’s this going to turn out for my people because what I have heard does not exactly fill me with hope?” 

          The initial answer he gets in verse nine is not all that hope-giving either.  God, through the angel says, “…Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.” We must apply what we learned last week about these words that are “shut up and sealed until the time of the end.”  When we plug that understanding into this context, God is essentially saying to Daniel, “Daniel, go you way and don’t trouble yourself about that because this is not for you to know—these things will be revealed at the time of the end.  Your job is to hear these words and write them down for future generations—it’s not important for you to understand what they mean.”  This sounds much like what Jesus told his disciples in the book of Acts chapter one.  The disciples ask Jesus and end-times question.  That is--when would he restore national Israel to its place of prominence?  7He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  8But [here’s what your part is to do] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." 

          Jesus says two things here in response to this question about God’s timing of future events.  First, he plainly says much the same thing God says to Daniel here, “This is not for you to know.  God knows and the programming is already in place, but you don’t need to know and you are not going to know.” Second, he tells them that their task was not related to a national Israel.  Their mission was to work within the spiritual realm to bring about the spiritual kingdom that Christ had inaugurated.  They were to do that by bearing witness to him in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only to Israel, but to the entire world.  Jesus is in a sense saying to these apostles, “Don’t you worry about prophetic timelines, you just complete the task I’ve given you.” 

          In Daniel 12:11, we see an even more puzzling prophecy from this angel.  He says, “And for the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.  Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.”  I didn’t read any scholar—and there are many of them out there to read--who knows what that means.  We read in 11:31 about the time when Antiochus would suspend all regular burnt offerings and we know that this pagan king set up an abomination within the temple when he defiled it with his foreign gods.  But what this time period in verse 11 means no one can know for certain.  Scores of opinions are offered, but none of them that I read are stated with any textual basis for conviction.  Clearly, this prophecy is not for Daniel to understand—he doesn’t have a clue about it and God’s second to last word to him on the matter is again, “Go your way till the end.”  Daniel gets no satisfying answers to his questions.  Even as God’s prophet, he is not given anything approximating the full story.

          What he IS given—as he has been given throughout this prophecy--is the promise of God’s sovereign faithfulness to be at work accomplishing his purposes in the midst of the future tribulations of God’s people.  We see that in verse 10.  After God has responded to Daniel’s question by saying, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end,” he says, “Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly.”  If that sounds a bit familiar, it’s because we saw a very similar expression in 11:35 related to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus.  There we read, “and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white until the time of the end…” 

          This is what happens to God’s people in the midst of tribulation—they are refined and purified—they are made white.  The point of this is that in the midst of all the uncertainty about the future with respect to the “when—will this be” question and the “how long” question and the “what will be the end result question,” one thing will remain a certainty.  That is—God!  He will be at work in the midst of the persecution or trial or disease or whatever other difficulty you can imagine to make for himself a people who are refined and purified and made white. Paul in Philippians 2:15 says that God’s desire for his people is “15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,”  Being a person—being a church that is without blemish implies that we will be refined, purified and made white and God powerfully uses trials and difficulties as his hammer and chisel to chip away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus.

          Even though we can’t know for sure what is meant by the prophecy in verse 12, we can know what is broadly meant by the verse.  Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.”  As we persevere to the end of the trial—whatever it is, we will find blessing.  Finally, though Daniel does not have any of his questions answered, he is given the best hope possible. In verse 13 God says to him, “But go your way till the end.  And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”  That’s beautiful. He is saying, “Daniel—go your way but be assured—by God’s grace, after you die, you shall rise and God has already allotted a place just for you where you can live forever.  Again, we see the power of the promise of eternity for those who persevere.  For those who don’t get hung up on all the questions they have in the midst of the difficulties of life, but instead choose to live with a child-like trust in God, there is a place reserved for them.  In that place, all their questions will either be answered or melt into eternal praise.

          Notice that Daniel ends the book without recording his final response to God.  God has just said, “Daniel, don’t try to find satisfaction and release from your anxieties by getting your why and when and how questions answered—find your satisfaction in God and his faithfulness to you keep his promise of blessing and eternal life for you.”  How did Daniel respond?  It doesn’t say, but we know.  We know because we have the book of Daniel in our Bibles which means he was faithful to shut up the words and keep them safe for others to read long after he had died.  We know what Daniel did because God has shown us what motivated Daniel from the time he was a teenager and risked his own neck to eat only food that God approved.  We know from the time he spent facing down King Nebuchadnezzar with the unpleasant truth about his sin.  We know from his willingness to be thrown into a den of lions rather than stop worshipping his God.  We know what Daniel’s response was to what he had seen and heard in this last vision.  He collected himself and walked away from the bank of the Tigris River without his questions answered about things that were intensely troubling and he chose to do what he had always done—he chose to trust God.

          Where are you today?  Maybe you’re in the midst of a situation with many more questions than answers.  Maybe you’ve asked your questions, but like Daniel—you don’t have any answers.  Here are three things God is saying to you from Daniel 12.  First, Whatever difficulty you are facing, it won’t last forever.  Whatever it is, God has set a time limit on it so that it will bring you no unnecessary pain and suffering, but only accomplish what he intends for your eternal blessing and glory.  There are NO everlasting trials for the believer in Christ.  Pain is temporary, but there are eternal pleasures at his right hand waiting for you.  Second, God is a work in the midst of the trial refining and purifying and making you white.  It may not feel like it—you may feel like you are bucking God all the way—getting frustrated, being cranky to your family and friends.  The idea that God is at work in the midst of this unspeakably messy time of trial may seem to you to be the most ludicrous notion imaginable.  If that is your reaction, then you don’t know much about refining. 

          When metal is refined, it is heated until it becomes liquid and then it is heated still further.  As it is heated, the dross and impurities—the weaknesses--the elements that make it unfit for optimum use come bubbling to the top where the refiner scoops it off.  Begin to see your crankiness and woeful lack of faith in the midst of the fiery trial as the dross that God is refining out of you.  If you are a believer, at the end of the day—the promise of being who God created you to be—a mature saint of God is more important to you than your personal comfort.  By his grace you will endure this and be more like Jesus because of it.  Third, remember: Though you do not have all the answers, like the apostles--you’ve got work to do for the King. In the midst of the questions we scream out to God in the midst of tribulation, part of his response to us is, “Don’t worry about getting all your questions answered—just complete the task I have given you—the one we are doing together.”  We KNOW we are called to live for Christ and share him with others with our lives and words—we KNOW that.  As we focus on THAT mission, the other questions we have for God seem to lose much of their importance.  We can leave the secret things to God.  May God give us the grace to learn from the life of Daniel to trust him in all circumstances because he and his promises are trustworthy.

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