Drawing Comfort from Daniel
by David Williams
“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. 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. But 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.”
What a wonderful time we’ve had in the book of Daniel! As we wind down this series there are a couple over-arching themes that encompass the book that I’d like to address here; valuable lessons that we can glean which will help us to see God more clearly, bringing us closer to Him in adoration and worship, framing how we are to posture ourselves in this life. By the time we get to this passage, Daniel is an old man, probably in his 90’s, who has lived the vast majority of his life as a stranger in a strange land. He’s lived through, and been part of, monumental historical Biblical events: Being carried off into captivity; having the Temple destroyed; being conspired against at the highest levels; spending the night with lions and living to tell about it; having multiple encounters with angels; receiving direct revelation from the Lord; seeing the leader of the known world lose his mind (only to later regain it after confessing the Lord of Heaven and earth); living through the rebuilding of the Temple; seeing his people return from captivity; and living through four different empires. Throughout a lifelong captivity, he remains blameless – toward God as well as his captors - and one lesson we can learn from the life of Daniel is how to walk in wisdom as the minority in a lost world and still be faithful to the Lord. He never decried the evil of his captors, or cursed them in their sin, rather he faithfully executed his civil duty while walking in boldness and confidence in the Lord. By contrast, the current political climate that dominates Western Evangelicalism would have us believe that in order for us to have influence in our country and in the world, we must be in control. (If we cannot be in control, then we must align ourselves with those with whom we have “shared values”; those whose “worldviews” most closely resemble our own.) All across the fruited plain we decry no longer being the majority, and that the America of today no longer reflects the America our parents grew up in – that as people are becoming more emboldened to publicly live out their sin, the veneer of Christian values once broadly expressed in popular culture has effectively eroded away. Today, if one identifies as an Evangelical Christian, then they are truly in the minority. Friends, this is nothing to bemoan, nor is it anything new. The greater reality is that those effectively called and regenerated by the Holy Spirit and name the name of Christ have been, and always will be, the minority. The life of Daniel upends the notion that in order for us to be influential, we must have the majority. Daniel lived almost his entire life serving at the highest levels of administration in godless, pagan empires. Yet, in the fear of the Lord and in wisdom, he was able to walk blameless before his captors, while living out his faith, and declare the Word of the Lord with boldness. He never compromised or saw being the minority as a threat. The truth which he grasped (and I pray we in America can grasp this as well) is that when one walks with the Lord, they are in the majority. What God says is final and inalterable; it is not up for a vote, nor can it be undermined by popular opinion. He cannot be swayed by the masses, and even the most wicked, reprobate rulers exercise their authority according to His eternal purposes. When we stand with God, we are in the majority. We don’t have to battle for control – it already belongs to the Lord. It is this resting in God’s sovereignty that sets Daniel apart from what we see playing out before us today on cable news and pop culture religion – Daniel knew that despite his present situation, God was, and always is, in control. The outcome was never in dispute. We think that unless we’re in control, that God is not in control, and that for God to be in control, we must be in control. This in part was the purpose of all the visions he’d received – to know that God is in control, and the worldly governments serve to fulfil His purposes, without regard to how evil and godless they may be. Sin and evil may be predominant, but it is certainly not prevailing. But as grand as the revelations were that Daniel received, we have even greater revelation in God’s Word written for us, His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and we have the fullness of the revelation of the Son. As sure as Daniel was in the sovereignty of God, we have a greater surety. Selah.
The high watermark of the book of Daniel is not the visions he received concerning the fate of ethnic Israel, the rise of worldly kingdoms, or his sparse writings about “the end,” but rather the coming of the Christ. Strategically wedged in the middle of the book in chapter seven, we read where Daniel writes,
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like the son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power: all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Jesus claims to be this very Messiah 550 years later in Mark 14:61-62, using the exact same language of the Son of Man coming in the clouds in reference to Himself. That the center point of the book of Daniel looks to Christ is easy to miss, but the beauty of Covenant Theology passed down to us in the Reformed tradition is that it brings to fore the work of Christ, viewing the Scriptures from a redemptive – historical lens. This helps us see the mighty hand of God at work in His creation to bring about the redemption of the elect. To read the Scriptures, particularly prophetic and apocalyptic books (like Daniel), with an eye toward attempting to surmise the details of what “the end” means, is to miss the bigger point. The inordinate and unsound preoccupation with the end times is what I call the “Last Days Craze.” Speculation and conjecture over passages of Scripture God has purposely left vague has become a cottage industry in Western Evangelicalism. It sells books, fills conference halls, and provides absolutely no clarity, despite its attempt. Daniel was denied clarity on the things he saw, and even our Lord Himself only skimmed the topic…
Our primary interpretive principle when reading the Bible is first, what does it mean to those contemporary to the writer, not what does it mean to us. When we dismiss the immediate historical context of prophetic and apocalyptic writing, appropriating what was written to our own cultural context, then what we end up doing is reading news headlines into the Biblical text. Once we start down that path, it leads down a rabbit hole of endless guesswork and hypothesizing, looking at current events and trying to reverse engineer them into the Bible. The Bible was never meant to be read that way and attempting to read it as such only undermines the comfort and certainty Scripture was given to us for in the first place. Further, it obscures the work of Christ and the hand of God operating in time for His own glory. We must read Daniel, yea, the whole of Scripture, through a Christocentric lens, not an eschatological one. Hence, the framework for reading Daniel is not an undo emphasis on “the end,” but the anticipation of the coming Son of Man, the King who will have an everlasting Kingdom and an everlasting dominion – in contrast to Israel, Babylon, or the other kingdoms of this world Daniel saw in his visions – they would all pass away, but a King and a Kingdom were coming that would last forever. Indeed, Christ’s own parting word to His disciples was to take heart, that He had overcome the world and they were to continue His work, proclaiming Him, making disciples of of all nations. They were not to cower in fear, monitoring current events, worrying about tribulation or an Antichrist. Though the Kingdom of Christ will grow, it will not be without difficulty or conflict, and we know that tribulation has been the calling card of the Church since its inception. It is unavoidable, and it is guaranteed. Even though it is assured, it cannot stop the spread of the dominion of the Son of Man. This is the comfort Daniel was given, and the comfort we can take as well!