Let me ask you a question. Is history haphazard, or is it going somewhere? Is it like watching tennis, as the ball of power gets passed from one nation to the other, and then back? Or is it like going on a journey? For all the twists and turns in the road, we’re heading to a destination?
This effects how you live. If history is haphazard, there’s no more to life than making the most of the hand you get dealt. If history is going somewhere, your life needs to line up with where things are going.
The Bible insists that history has a direction of travel. A destination. Your life and mine need to line up with that.
Daniel chapters 10 to 12 are full of history. As we divide Daniel up into its stories and then its visions, so far it’s been one chapter apiece. Until today. Daniel chapters 10 to 12 are a single vision, the last big unit of the book. So big, that we only had the last third read. As I say, they’re full of history. The vision God gives Daniel is extremely detailed.
For example, you could read about a king who wanted to make an alliance with a neighbouring kingdom. So gave his daughter in marriage to the son of their king. The plan backfired. His daughter became fiercely loyal to her new husband, and launched an attack on her father’s kingdom. Here is history with all its twists and turns.
But God wants us to know that he is behind the scenes, and it’s all heading somewhere. Our reading started halfway through the life of the final king who is portrayed, a king we’ve met before, Antiochus IV. He gets more airtime than the 350 years before him. This account of history is heading somewhere. It’s heading to his cruel reign, to his final end, and to what God has planned beyond that.
I’m not going to attempt to do justice to all the wonderful details in these chapters. Instead, I’ll give you two destinations that God is moving history towards. And then from that, I’ll give us one implication for how we live in line with that history.
God will win the battle
First, God will win the battle. God will win the battle.
History is a battleground. It’s a struggle.
It’s a struggle for dominance, and the people of God often get caught up in the middle. Much of Daniel 11 tells of the tussle between the kings of the north and the kings of the south. Alexander the Great’s empire fragmented into four after his death. Two of those kingdoms were the Seleucid kingdom centred on what is now Syria, and the Ptolemaic kingdom centred on what is now Egypt. Stuck right in the middle, was the tiny nation of Israel.
Many bombs fell on Kent during the war because we’re between London and the continent. God’s people lived in between the two powerful nations. As they struggled, God’s people suffered.
History is a struggle. Indeed, look at chapter 10 verse 1: “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war.”
In fact, it’s even more of a struggle than we can see.
Let me introduce you to an idea that may well be unfamiliar. We only meet it a few times in the Bible. Here it is: Individual nations are represented by specific angels. The battle for dominance on earth is replicated in the spiritual realm, as these angels fight it out to be on top.
Let me show this to you in these chapters of Daniel. Daniel’s vision, which starts in chapter 10, is given him by an unnamed angel. In chapter 10, verses 12 to 14, we meet someone called Michael. He’s called a prince here.
In the New Testament, there are two angels with names: Gabriel and Michael. Neither angel is original to the New Testament; we meet them both in Daniel. Gabriel was in chapters 8 and 9. Michael is here. So Michael, the prince, is actually an angel. Princes here are in fact angels.
Let me read chapter 10, verses 12 to 14: “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
Daniel had been praying for three weeks. It took this angel 21 days to get to Daniel. What held him up? The prince of Persia resisted him. That is, Persia’s angel stopped him from getting this message to Daniel. He was detained. He finally managed to get away because reinforcements arrived, in the form of Michael, one of the chief angels. Or, as we might say, the archangel Michael.
Then look at verses 20 and 21 of chapter 10: “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.”
See? Persia has its angel, its prince. After Persia drops off the scene, Greece’s angel will give Daniel’s visitor grief. But he knows he’ll have Michael’s help. Michael is “your prince”. That’s “you”, plural. Now we see who Michael is: He’s the angel for the nation of Israel.
We just see the battles play out on earth. But there’s more to life than what you can see. Behind the scenes, hidden to us, there are angels. Angels that represent particular nations, and look after their interest. As nations fight it out for dominance, those angels are fighting it out for their nation to be on top.
At one level, this isn’t relevant to us at all. It’s not our job to fight angels. They will fight each other. We are just called to live our lives on earth.
But at another level, it is relevant to know what’s going on behind the scenes. We look at history, and see that life is a battleground. Daniel chapter 10 tells us that we haven’t seen the half of it – there’s another load of battle that we can’t even see.
I love photos of active volcanos. I’m sure it’s scary to live in Bali, but the photos of the volcano glowing red at night are beautiful. So much so, it must be tempting to wonder where the harm is. If you only go by what you can see, it’s just a red-orange glow. The trouble is that there’s a whole load of molten rock boiling up below the surface. For all you can see, there’s another level that you can’t. The overall picture is really quite scary.
History may look scary, at the level of what you can see. But there’s another layer that you cannot see. The overall picture is really quite scary.
Which makes us ask: Who will win? And the clear answer of Daniel 11 is that God will win.
Antiochus IV will meet his end. His end is told in a way that deliberately echoes language from the prophets as to how God will wipe out evil. We get that in verses 40 to 44, and then his end comes in verse 45. He doesn’t get an obituary. His actual death is only mentioned between the lines. Chapter 11, verse 45: “He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.”
The end. Antiochus gone. God wins.
Chapter 12, verse 1, pretty much tells the same thing. “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.”
God has a book. In it, the names of every one of us who are truly his people. Unrivalled distress. But then God’s people will be delivered. God wins. God will win the battle.
The New Testament says the same thing about Jesus. As you read about these angels tussling it out, is it a situation that could go either way? No. Ephesians 1 tells us that God raised Christ from the dead, and (quote): “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
The battle may look chaotic. We may suffer in the process. God’s people in other parts of the world may suffer immensely. Behind all of this, there may be forces we cannot even see, battling it out.
But we do not need to worry. We can sleep easy at night. Jesus is risen from the dead. He’s seated on the throne, far above every earthly and spiritual power. Evil will be destroyed. There may be days of terrible distress to come, but if your name is in God’s book of life, you could not be more secure. You could not be more safe. God’s people will be delivered.
God will win the battle.
God will raise the dead
But there’s more to say about the destination of history than that. The good news gets even better.
First, God will win the battle. And second, God will raise the dead. God will raise the dead.
We’ve been thinking about how God will win the battle. But many of his faithful people will be killed along the way. If you’re reading this, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all very well for God to win the battle, but if you get killed for your faith then God’s victory wasn’t in time for you.
Equally, we’ve been thinking about how truly evil people, like Antiochus IV, will meet their end. But that won’t be before he’s done his damage. And in his case, the damage is considerable. If he gets killed in battle, that stops him doing more damage. But there’s no justice for the cruelty he’s already inflicted.
The victory seems too late, and the cruel leader is stopped too late.
The answer to both those problems is that God will raise the dead. The final destination of history lies beyond the grave, in what God will do beyond history.
It may be that you thought the dead being raised was a New Testament idea, something the Bible started to talk about when Jesus came. Well, he did talk about it, and I’ll take us there in a moment. But it comes up several times in the Old Testament as well. In Daniel 12, we have one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament that God will raise the dead.
Daniel 12, verses 2 and 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.”
At tonight’s carol service, we will hear again God’s awful words to Adam when he and Eve first sinned. “Dust you are, and to dust you will return”. The tragedy is that because we sin, we must all die, returning to the dust from which we came.
But sleeping in the dust is not the end. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake.
God will raise the dead. That is a good thing. The death of death. But whether it’s a good thing for you rather depends.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. We wake to face one of two destinies.
Some will awake to everlasting life. Life will be so good. This is the beginning of the next chapter of your life. A chapter in which nothing is sad, nothing is bad, nothing ever goes wrong. This chapter never ends. Not only is your new life eternal in quality, it is everlasting as well. Life as it was always meant to be, unspoilt by anything, never ending. That is truly wonderful!
But others will awake to shame and everlasting contempt. They do not wake up to begin life itself. They wake up to be deeply ashamed of all they’ve done wrong. They wake up to a future of being treated with contempt. We’re not told who will treat them with contempt. But they will be in no doubt that they are now suffering the worst future imaginable, and all because of the wrong choices, the mistakes that they made. And notice the terrifying detail: this future is also everlasting.
Jesus said the same thing. John chapter 5, verses 28 to 29. And when he says “his voice”, he’s talking about himself: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
Multitudes who sleep in the dust will awake. That’s because Jesus will wake us up. It’s his voice you’ll hear telling you it’s time to wake up now. And you either rise to live, or you rise to be condemned.
What determines whether we rise to live, or rise to be condemned? What determines whether we wake to everlasting life or to shame and everlasting contempt? We could turn to lots of Bible passage for the same answer, but let’s settle for the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God loved us so much that he gave his only Son. He gave his Son to be born into the world at Christmas. He gave his Son to die on the cross in our place on Good Friday. He gave his Son to rise to life again on Easter Day. So that everyone who believes in him, who puts their trust, might not perish but have eternal life.
Death is not the end. Not for anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re good or bad. God will raise the dead. God will raise you. That is the day when those who have caused hurt and pain will pay for what they’ve done.
By rights, that should be all of us. We all go through life causing hurt and pain in our own way. But all of God’s people, everyone whose name is written in his book, everyone who has put their trust in Jesus God’s son, is forgiven for all that badness. And, quite wonderfully we will rise not to suffer shame, but to live. Even if we died for our faith, even if living for God let us to a martyr’s grave, we will be vindicated. Because that death will not be the end.
God will raise the dead.
Be wise. Be faithful.
That’s where history is heading. God is at work. God will win the battle. God will raise the dead.
What, then, for us? How do we live in line with this?
It’s two simple commands. Be wise. Be faithful.
There’s a group in this chapter who are called “the wise”. Chapter 11, verse 33: “Those who are wise will instruct many.” Chapter 12, verse 3: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens.”
In the Bible, being wise is living in line with reality, being rightly related to God.
Life will contain many ups and downs. Be wise.
The day will come when God will win. The day will come when you will be raised from the dead. Are you ready for that day? Will you be raised to an eternity of shame and contempt? Or will you be raised to an eternity of life as you’ve never known it before. That all hangs on whether you’ve made friends with Jesus now, in this life.
Whatever else you do, be wise. Shape your whole life around the fact that you are a follower of Jesus. Trust him for forgiveness. Live his way.
If you’ve never before started to follow him like that, why not do so today?
It’s dead easy. There are three steps to becoming a follower of Jesus. Tell. Trust. Tell. Tell him you want to follow him from now on. Trust that he’s heard you, so you are forgiven, and you can get on with the business of living for him. Then tell someone else that you’ve done it.
The closing verses of Daniel are bracketed by the same little phrase. Verse 9: “Go your way, Daniel.” Verse 13: “As for you, go your way.” Daniel’s struggling to understand all that he’s heard. “Don’t sit their scratching your head. Just get on with it. Get on with the business of living for God, and keep doing it until the end. Then God will take you home.” Be faithful. Press on.
Here’s 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.”