A sermon on Daniel 12 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 17 July 2022
Christians believe many things. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus, God’s Son and our Lord. But one other thing that we affirm is the resurrection of the body.
To believe in the resurrection is more than just believing in an afterlife, an eternal existence after death. It includes that but it is more. Because Christians believe that we will be raised to eternal life. Resurrection describes what kind of eternal life we will live. That when this mortal life is over and our bodies have returned to ash or dust, God will bring us back to life in a physical, human body, that we won’t exist as bodiless souls like ghosts, that we won’t be given wings and halos and live on the clouds playing harps, but that in the future eternal kingdom of God we will experience a genuine human life. Maybe not the same as we’ve been used to. It will at least have no illness or death. But it will still be recognisably human. We won’t be angels. We won’t be ghosts. We will be us transformed and made new.
Now we are familiar with the idea of resurrection from the New Testament. Jesus raised the dead to life. Jesus himself was raised to life on the first Easter Day. And Jesus promised that those who believe in him will be raised to eternal life, never to die again. But there are only hints of this belief in the Old Testament. The three clearest examples come from the book of Job, the book of Isaiah and the book of Daniel.
In Job chapter 19 Job says,
I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.
Job believed that death would not be the end of him. But that after he had died he would stand before God in his human body and see God with his own eyes.
In Isaiah chapter 25 Isaiah says,
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all the peoples, the sheet that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. He will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
Death, Isaiah said, covers the earth like a sheet, like a shroud over a dead body. There is nothing and no one that escapes its reach. Death covers us. It smothers us. But God will remove it. He will rescue us from it. When his kingdom comes in all its fullness, God will destroy death and remove all sources of unhappiness. And in this way he would fulfil his purpose of life and blessing for his creation.
And then there is Daniel chapter 12. It comes at the end of a long and complicated prediction about the future in chapter 11, a survey of history from 540 BC to 160 BC that I will try to summarise with as little confusion as possible. God announced that the Persian empire will eventually fall when it is invaded by Alexander the Great and his armies. Alexander however will die in 323 BC at the age of 32. His empire that stretched from Greece in the west all the way to India in the east will be split between four of his generals. They will make a pact not to fight over Alexander’s empire and then begin to fight over Alexander’s empire.
Daniel chapter 11 then describes the conflict between the descendants of two of those generals. The king of the north and the king of the south. The king of the north were the Seleucids, based in Syria, to the north of Israel. The king of the south were the Ptolemies, based in Egypt to Israel’s south. Most of Daniel chapter 11 describes the to and fro as first one king gets the upper hand and invaded more territory and then the other king fights back. Back and forth. Back and forth. Neither getting the upper hand over the other forever.
This conflict was relevant to the Jews for two reasons. Firstly because Israel was right in the middle between north and south, between Syria and Egypt. And their land was often the battle ground for the conflict as the fighting went back and forth.
Secondly, because one of the Seleucid kings, Antiochus Epiphanes, mistreated the Jews terribly. He is the king of the north described from verse 21 on. A contemptible person who has not been given the honour of royalty. He will invade the kingdom of God’s people. He will return to his own county with great wealth but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. When he tries to attack the king of the south and is beaten he will vent his fury against the holy covenant. His armed forces will desecrate the temple and will abolish the daily sacrifice. The king will exalt and magnify himself not only against the true God but against all gods, including his own. He will invade many countries and become very wealthy, but he will come to his end, and no one will help him.
It could not describe the reign of Antiochus, who is in our distant past but was still in Daniel’s future, it couldn’t describe it better. Because during his reign Jerusalem was sacked, the temple was desecrated, the practice of circumcision was banned, a high priest was appointed who offered sacrifices to Greek gods as well, forty thousand Jews were murdered and another forty thousand were forced into slavery.
It was a severe time of testing for God’s people. It challenged their faith in a good and all powerful God who allowed these things to happen. It also challenged their faith in the law of Moses through which God promised blessing in return for obedience. That the wicked would be punished with sickness and death but that the righteous and faithful would live long healthy lives and have lots of children.
But under these ruthless, godless kings the righteous and faithful were being punished and many of them losing their lives. What had happened to the life of blessing that God had promised in his law? It was a challenging time, testing their faith and their resilience.
God’s message in Daniel chapter 11 and 12 is a partial answer to these sorts of questions. It is, I admit, not a complete answer. God doesn’t tell us everything we want to know. But he does tell us what we need to know.
Firstly, he tells us that he is in control. By predicting these things through Daniel hundreds of years before they happen he is reminding his people that despite all appearances to the contrary he knows what he is doing. The ship of world history may have to sail through stormy weather, but the Lord’s hand is on the wheel. He has a plan although he has not revealed every detail of that plan. He is in charge, even though evil rulers seem to be in charge. Human kings seem to do whatever they want, but there is a king of kings in heaven who judges their actions and decisions, who can raise them up and bring them down.
God knows what Vladimir Putin wants. He knows what the NSW and Victorian governments are planning. So you cannot say that Anthony Albanese is not your Prime Minister, because he is. He is your Prime Minister. He leads the government of our country at the Lord’s pleasure. He will make good decisions and he will make bad decisions and some of them will impact your life for better or worse. We live in a constitutional monarchy. Our head of state, the Queen acting through her governor general, is only a mouthpiece for the current government. A neutral umpire called in once a generation to rule on the constitution. But the universe is not a constitutional monarchy. The Lord is king and he rules through his divine will according to his own divine purpose. And the leaders of nations and of business and of the world’s institutions act under his rule. And nothing they do or say can undermine his power and authority. For God could predict the next 200 years as easily as he did through Daniel. We may not know what the future holds, but we know him who holds the future.
Secondly, God’s control of the future includes the suffering of his faithful people. Through Daniel God revealed,
Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
The wise are those who acknowledge God because it is foolish not to acknowledge God. So the wise neither deny God or defy him. And sometimes, God predicts, they will suffer at the hands of the wicked who inflict on them the hatred that they have against God. Although it is never good and never pleasant, this testing will refine those believers like gold in a furnace is removed of its impurities. It will leave them stronger and more resilient, and more able to help those who are experiencing the same things.
It reminds us that it is foolish to want to suffer, but it is just as foolish to let suffering rob us of our hope. For I have found that the suffering in my own life has helped me clarify the most important things in life. When we live sheltered, privileged lives we can be selfish and self-indulgent. We can lack empathy for others and blame people for the troubles they have. When trouble happens to us we learn that we can’t get on without others. And in times of suffering I’ve had to rely on God the most. Trouble hasn’t driven me away from him but to him. When the floods of life rise up, he has been my rock, my shelter, my place of refuge. Being tested has not weakened me, but made me stronger, because God is my strength.
God is in charge and times of testing purify and strengthen his people. But thirdly those times of testing are only temporary but God’s kingdom is eternal. And God will put all wrongs right. He says to Daniel in chapter 12,
At that time your people, everyone whose name is found written in the book, will be delivered. 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.
What this means is that what we do in life matters. We will not escape the consequences of our actions and choices. Those who are wicked, who have inflicted cruelty upon the weak, and used violence to get their way, and lived long and full lives and have enjoyed their ill-gotten gains will not escape justice by dying and fading into non-existence. But they will be raised to life and stand before God and the books will be opened and their thoughts and plans and motives will be exposed and they will receive justice.
And those who have acknowledged God and trusted in him and made a stand for him against the current of popular opinion and have suffered for him by the loss of status or possessions or even their life will not be cut off from God’s blessing by death. But they will be raised to life and they will receive justice. Their full humanity will be restored to them. They will stand before God and at the reading of his book of life they will hear their name read out loud and they will be welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom of peace and joy and righteousness, where there will be no more crying or pain. For every loss, every grief, they will be comforted.
Resurrection means that death does not have the last word. Death does not let the wicked escape nor does it rob the faithful of God’s blessing. But at the end of time there will be a reckoning. The people of the nations will be sifted like grain. And each person will receive their just reward. And God will have the last word. His will put death to death and his eternal life will reign.
All this is ours, not because of our good deeds, not because of our own righteousness, not because of our obedience, but because of the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, who trusted his Father and submitted his life to his Father’s will and walked the path of the cross and suffered death for us. But the grave couldn’t hold him and had to release him. And he was seen alive by his disciples in a real genuine human body which still bore the scars of the nails. Which testified that the pains of death had been healed and that death could no longer touch him.
His resurrection is the promise of ours. Because by faith in him and in his risen life we are rescued from our fear of death which will claim us, if the Lord Jesus does not return first, but cannot keep us. And in a real, genuine human body we will stand before God and all our scars will be healed. All this will happen, not because our soul is immortal, but because God will raise our mortal body and soul and give us a real, genuine and eternal human life.
This is what Daniel chapter 12 affirms. That we will not be angels. And we won’t be ghosts. But we will be us transformed by the victory of God in the fullness of his eternal kingdom.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.