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A Final Word of Cheer
(Chapter 12 verses 1-13)
The book of Daniel has much to say that makes one wince. We who live under a government that guarantees us religious freedom shudder involuntarily when we read some of the historical portions of the book. Think of how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sentenced to being burnt to a crisp in the king’s furnace because of their loyalty to God, or of how Daniel remained faithful to God at the risk of being mangled by hungry lions. Besides these historical portions, there are prophetic portions of the book that terrified Daniel—chapters which speak of nations being crushed and of the horrors facing God’s people in the 400-year period between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
But although most of the book of Daniel contains a somber and sobering message, the keynote of its closing chapter is joy. Here God describes the climax of his work. God’s final word to Daniel is a word of cheer. He speaks to his beloved prophet of the help that the archangel Michael will provide for God’s people, of their resurrection, of their deliverance from judgment, and of the eternal glory awaiting them.
Daniel chapter 12 verse 1
“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.
The opening words “at that time” connect this passage with the preceding one, which had pictured the destruction of the Antichrist at the end of the world. The Angel who revealed this information to Daniel described “a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations.” Jesus quoted from this verse in speaking about the events leading up to the final judgment: “There will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive” (Matthew chapter 24 verses 21-22).
Perhaps you have heard somebody describe this world as a madhouse. Actually, the world is not a madhouse but an arena, a battlefield where a war is constantly raging between the forces of God and the forces of those who oppose God. There is not a single area of life that has not been claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan and his henchmen.
Here we are assured, first of all, that this struggle will continue and even intensify down to the end of the world. When the last evil days break upon the world, the Antichrist will lash out in desperate fury to seduce the people of God and to undermine their faith in Christ. The world, during its tortured centuries of existence, has seen distress of many kinds, but nothing like this last distress. These words remind us that being a Christian does not mean putting on rose-colored glasses so that everything looks pink and pretty. Daniel makes it clear that as we contemplate the future, there’s no reason for overconfidence.
But there’s no reason for despair, either. Not only is there trouble ahead; there’s triumph too. “At that time Michael . . . will arise.” Chapter 10 pictured Michael as the great angelic prince who was active behind the scenes of history, working against Satan’s agents in the Persian government. Michael was God’s agent to overthrow those satanic schemes and to guarantee that God’s good will for the returning exiles would be carried out. Here we learn that when the final great distress overtakes the world, Michael, God’s angelic champion, will again intervene on behalf of God’s people.
“Your people . . . will be delivered.” Michael will be successful in defending God’s people, his Israel, the spiritual children of Abraham who have been gathered from the east and the west. The huffing and puffing of the enemies will stop when God sends final deliverance to “everyone whose name is found written in the book.” God’s book is his family register, containing the names of those who have been loved and chosen from all eternity (Exodus chapter 32 verse 32; Psalm 69 verse 28).
Daniel chapter 12 verses 2-3
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 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.
One of the enemies that has intruded into God’s good creation and has caused untold misery for God’s people is death. This enemy will also be overcome in the final victory. Genesis chapter 2 teaches us that “God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (verse 7). Genesis chapter 3 teaches us that when God’s first children rebelled against their Creator, one of the consequences was that they would once again return to the ground from which they came. In every generation since Adam, as someone has said, “the death rate has remained the same—one per person.”
This dominance of death will be broken when God brings the history of the world to a conclusion. Then “multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake.” Who these multitudes are Jesus tells us in a statement made to his Jewish opponents: “All who are in their graves will hear [the voice of the Son of God] and come out” (John chapter 5 verses 28-29).
Death is “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1st Corinthians chapter 15 verse 26). It will be destroyed by him who, at his resurrection, broke the power of death. In the great resurrection on the Last Day, God’s people will rise to everlasting life. They will live with God in an existence that is perfect and never-ending.
Those who spent their earthly lives evading God will experience a different fate in the great resurrection of the Last Day. They will hear God say, “Very well, you wanted to be without me; now be without me—forever!” And they will be sentenced to perpetual divorce from God—a never-ending existence of “shame and everlasting contempt.”
This idea goes down hard for many people who picture God as a lovable but spineless being who wouldn’t do anything worse to a person than a slap on the wrist. But that is not the picture the Bible paints of God. The same God who at the time of Noah threw oceans of water over the mountain tops, drowning a whole world of screaming people, the same God who once scorched Sodom and Gomorrah in a hurricane of fire, the same God who fed wicked Queen Jezebel to the dogs—that same God still reigns in heaven. And he has told us that what he has done before, he will do again. Those who on judgment day are sentenced to shame and everlasting contempt will not be thrown out on some cosmic junkpile, where worn-out human beings are discarded. They are, after all, human beings, and God would never dishonor a human being by treating him or her as a thing. For all eternity they will retain their ability to experience God’s eternal rejection.
In sharp contrast to the damned are the believing children of God, for whom judgment day will be a triumph. They are described as “those who are wise.” From God’s Word they have learned to recognize their sinfulness as well as their only Savior from sin. It isn’t easy in times of persecution to remain wise, to show sober and sound judgment. One of the outstanding ways to show Christian wisdom is by word and example—to be a light in the world, helping others to find the way into God’s family and ultimately to a place at God’s side.
They will live in glory forever, as they shine like the brightness of the heavens. In the pages of the New Testament, God gives us a fuller revelation of what Daniel prophesied. We know that on judgment day we will not only stand before God and be inspected, but we also have the promise—almost unbelievable!—that through Christ we will actually survive that examination, that we will find approval, that we will please God. Through faith in Christ’s perfect life and his innocent death, we will not only be pitied by God but delighted in, as a father delights in his own child. To be sure, there’s trouble ahead, but there’s triumph too.
Daniel chapter 12 verse 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 had written down each of the revelations God had given him. This most recent revelation (chapter 10 verse 1 to chapter 12 verse 3) was the last one God gave him; with this the prophetic message to Daniel was complete. “This last revelation formed a conclusion, and the entire body, i.e., the book, was now to be sealed. Daniel . . . has now completed his prophetic ministry and is, as one of his last acts, to lay away the book that it may be preserved” (Young, page 257).
When the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were accidentally discovered in caves west of the Dead Sea in 1948–1950, they had been wrapped in linen and placed into large sealed jars for protection. Although most of these valuable documents were of brittle, centuries-old leather, being wrapped and sealed preserved them for two thousand years. God commanded Daniel to close up and seal the book not so that it would be hidden, but so that it would be preserved for future generations of people who would need to hear this message.
In years to come, people would need just such a prophecy in order to have reliable information about what lies in the future. It’s tragic, however, that many in our day who reject God’s revealed truth are busily searching for truth elsewhere, running here and there in an attempt to find what makes life worth living and death worth dying. In them the tragic prediction of the prophet Amos is being fulfilled:
“Men will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.” (Amos chapter 8 verse 12)
Through faithful servants like Daniel, God has shared some of his secrets with us, even putting them down in writing. Some of the information he gave us through Daniel refers to the time past; some refers to the present; some of this information refers to the future and extends to the very end of time, when our Lord will return. Jesus has assured us, “If you hold to my teaching, . . . you will know the truth” (John chapter 8 verses 31-32).
Daniel chapter 12 verses 5-7
Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 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?”
The man clothed in linen, who was above the water 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.”
A new scene now appeared before Daniel’s eyes. On the banks of the river, apparently still in Babylon, Daniel saw “two others,” two angels, in addition to the Angel, the Lord himself, who had been giving Daniel the heavenly information contained in the preceding chapters. In the next verse the Angel is described as clothed in linen. One of the angels asked, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” that is, the amazing events mentioned in the opening verses of the chapter. His question really amounts to this: “How long will it be to the end of time?”
The divine speaker lifted both hands to heaven. Among the ancient Jews, lifting one’s hand was a gesture that accompanied taking an oath. Raising both hands would seem to indicate double assurance. To assure Daniel of the utter truthfulness of this answer, the Angel took an oath. He swore by himself, “by him who lives forever.”
His answer, given under oath, is mysterious. The times of distress leading to the great deliverance would be “for a time, times and half a time.” We met that unusual expression once before in the book of Daniel, in chapter 7 verse 25, where we learned that the people of God would be handed over to the power of Antichrist for that period of time, which we understood as a period of time appointed by God.
“A time”: the opposition to God and his people will begin and will last for a certain measured period;
“times”: this opposition will increase and seem to be successful;
“half a time”: its fury will be reduced and suddenly will end when all opposition to God collapses.
This unusual expression, then, refers to the duration of the times of persecution predicted in earlier chapters of the book of Daniel.
One of the angels had asked, “How long will it be to the end of time?” The answer given was this: That will come at a time when “the power of the holy people has been finally broken,” when the Christian church is apparently near annihilation. With seductive false teaching attacking the very heart of the Christian religion, the Antichrist will have come close to destroying the very people of God. At this critical time, when it seems the church of God cannot possibly survive, God will return to destroy the Antichrist and deliver his faithful people.
Who of us has not wondered, “How long will it be to the end of time?” It’s worth noting that God’s answer does not specify a particular number of years. We don’t need to know that. For God to spell out the precise number of years until the end would not really help his people. It might even be a temptation for them to be careless and frivolous toward his call to repentance.
Daniel chapter 12 verses 8-10
I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”
He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. 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.
“Go your way, Daniel.” In other words, “Don’t try to pry into secrets that are beyond your understanding.” God has not given us all the information we might like to have about the future, and what the Lord has not told us, we can be happy not to know. God sometimes tells us what Jesus told his disciples at his ascension: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts chapter 1 verse 7). God’s entire revelation will be understood completely only when the events prophesied actually take place. The time when these things will be understood is referred to simply as “the time of the end,” the final end of all things. With the Lord’s coming, the mysteries will be cleared up and the questions answered that have often bothered Christians as they wonder about the Lord’s guidance of history.
God has not withheld from us any information we need to know in order to be prepared to face the end of the world. This truth is an important one for Christians living at a time when many are setting dates for Christ’s return and are quick to point to certain events of modern history as specific fulfillments of Bible prophecy. We can be confident that when God’s good time comes, we will understand, even though there is so much now that we can see only dimly and darkly.
Although the Angel did not give Daniel the specific information he requested, he did give him a general description of what the future will hold for the children of God. Difficult times, even persecutions, await God’s people in the future. But under God’s guidance, they are purifying judgments, not condemning ones. Through them, God will bring it about that “many will be purified, made spotless and refined.” What a hopeful truth for the church of God to hold onto as it faces a future that looks anything but bright for God’s people!
“The wicked will continue to be wicked.” The enemies of God and of his people will continue their blind opposition to God’s revealed truth. They will not understand his grand design for this world and its people. But “those who are wise will understand.”
Daniel chapter 12 verses 11-12
“From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.
The book of Daniel comes to an end on a surprising note. Although the Angel declined to give Daniel an exact timetable of the end time, he does name two time periods—a longer one of 1,335 days and a shorter one of 1,290 days.
Many commentators take these time periods literally—in each case equaling about 3 1/2 years. Jewish commentators have seen in them a reference to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. “The period (1290 days) would end in the summer of 164 (B.C.). The death of Antiochus in fact took place in the course of that year.” The period of 1,335 days, 45 days longer than the first, is explained in this way: “Perhaps the full effects of Antiochus’ death would only be felt after the lapse of this period” (A. Cohen, ed., Soncino Books of the Bible, pages 103, 104).
Others have interpreted these two time periods to refer to the approximate time the Roman army arrived when it destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, without explaining, however, what the numbers 1,290 and 1,335 have to do with this date.
Most commentators have preferred to solve the problem by understanding the two time periods symbolically rather than literally. The starting point for both periods is described as “from the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up.” This points almost surely to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, that difficult period of persecution for God’s ancient people. We have an interesting parallel to this time designation in Revelation chapter 11 verses 2-3, where the apostle John was told that the enemies of the church “will trample on the holy city for 42 months,” again a 3 1/2-year period. At the same time, however, God gave Saint John this additional promise: “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days.” The Concordia Self-Study Commentary adds this pertinent comment: “The 3 1/2 years of the terrible reign of Antiochus IV, when the temple was desecrated, became the measure for the duration of a period of oppression and affliction in Judaic tradition” (page 296).
The 1,335 days, then, refer to that period of time—exactly measured out by God—when the church of Jesus Christ will be the suffering church. It includes the entire period of persecution, the whole period of opposition to God’s gracious rule, down to the end of time. The 1,290 days would then represent the most severe phase of this period, including both the persecution under Antiochus and the later persecution which it symbolized, namely, persecution under the Antichrist.
It may be that by numbering the days, God is telling us that the suffering he calls us to undergo for his sake is limited. In biblical visions, seven is often the number for symbolizing perfection or completion. The 1,290 days, the worst phase of persecution, amounts to a little more than 3 1/2 years. The suffering that God’s people will be called upon to bear will last no longer than about half of a complete time period. It will be bearable.
Daniel’s question, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” has, in effect, been answered. Whatever persecution lies ahead for God’s people, it will not be too much. God’s children will be able to bear it. God saw fit to cut short the persecution unleashed on the Jews by King Antiochus, the antichrist of the Old Testament. In the same way, God will in his good time also cut short the devilish work of the New Testament Antichrist pictured in the Scriptures.
Exactly what form the suffering of Christ’s followers will take is not spelled out. Luther, in commenting on this passage, states that it could very well happen that the world in which we live may be so preoccupied with enjoying life that “in the entire world not a single pulpit would be left from which the Gospel is preached publicly.” Under such conditions “the gospel would be preserved in the home only through God-fearing parents” (Saemmtliche Schriften, Volume 6, page 938).
“Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days” is an Old Testament form of Christ’s comforting promise, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew chapter 24 verse 13). On this note, Daniel’s prophecy ends.
Daniel chapter 12 verse 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.”
The book comes to its close on a note of victory. Daniel was to continue in the situation of life in which God had placed him, undaunted and undeterred by the knowledge that difficult days lay ahead.
“You will rest” in the grave, and “at the end of the days,” at Christ’s second coming, “you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” And what an inheritance awaited Daniel—eternal life in heaven!
Luther has this to say about the closing verses of the book of Daniel: “Daniel concludes the record of his terrifying visions and dreams on a note of joy, namely with the coming of Christ’s eternal reign of glory. It is to this glorious final chapter of world history that all of Daniel’s visions and dreams have pointed. . . . Whoever wants to study them profitably dare not focus his attention on the details of the visions and dreams, but will find comfort in the Savior Jesus Christ whom they portray and in the deliverance he brings from sin and its misery.”
The End of Part 12
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