Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the final section of the Old Testament Reading: Daniel 12:1-3.
1. Our Old Testament Reading for this morning gives us (more or less) the beginning and ending of Daniel’s final vision. But there is much that has happened in Daniel’s life and his previous visions which build up to this moment. At the start of the book of Daniel, we are introduced to Daniel, who was just an ordinary, young Jewish man living in Jerusalem and, presumably, doing his own thing. Daniel was an intelligent, wise young man. He had a bright future of unlimited potential ahead of him. Maybe Daniel had dreams of becoming successful and famous. Maybe he dreamed of getting married, having a family, and growing old as he watched his children and grandchildren grow up to love the Lord and become successful in their own right. Whatever Daniel’s plans, hopes, and dreams might have been, they all came crashing down on one fateful day. The year was 597 BC, and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Daniel’s city of Jerusalem and destroyed his city, his way of life, and everything he had ever known. He must have never imagined that life could change so quickly. Daniel and some of his friends were taken captive to Babylon where they would have to learn to live faithfully in a land which was hostile to their God and how he had called them to live. And so, Daniel had a number of challenging moments, like when he and his friends were instructed to eat food that God had commanded the Jews not to eat. Then Daniel’s friends were told to bow down to a golden statue of the king or else be thrown into a fiery furnace. Not long later, Daniel had a similar experience where he was told he could not pray to anyone but the king. And if he did pray to someone else, he would be thrown into a lion’s den. Daniel also had several other moments where he was asked to stand before the king, interpret his dreams, and even speak words of judgement against him. Trouble after trouble came Daniel’s way, and after he learned to navigate one trouble faithfully, another would quickly replace it.
2. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the church’s situation today? The similarities between ourselves and Daniel certainly aren’t exact, but the parallels are uncanny. Think about the course of Christianity in our country over the last few decades. Even just a couple of decades ago when I was young, Christianity was the norm. There were no sports on Sunday mornings, you were looked at as strange if you didn’t belong to a church, and you couldn’t find a single store that sold alcohol on Sundays. This was my experience growing up in the Midwest. Maybe the timing of some of these things was slightly different here in New England. But either way, many, if not most, of us remember a time when Christianity was the norm. We just lived our ordinary lives, doing our own thing, never imagining that life could change so quickly. Now, unlike Daniel’s experience, things didn’t change for us in a single day, though we could probably point to a series of events that led to where we are now. But one way or another, very quickly the Christian way of life as we knew it has come crashing down around us and has been destroyed. And now we, too, have to figure out how to live faithfully in a land which is hostile to our God and how he has called us to live. I’m sure I don’t need to recount all of the recent challenges we, as the church, have faced. But, just to name a few, there has been the legalization of abortion, the increasing LGBT+ movement along with all of its ramifications, and the increasing hostility to the church as retail, leisure, and sports take center stage in our society. And these are just some of the big picture things. We haven’t even begun to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic which is throwing blow after blow at us in so many different respects. Trouble after trouble is coming our way, and we are helpless against them.
3. So, what did the Lord do for Daniel in response to this continued trouble he faced? He did something fairly unique—he gave Daniel a series of visions to help him understand his own circumstances and to give him hope for the future. These visions also have a message of hope for us. In Daniel’s first vision, which is also the most significant vision, Daniel sees four beasts, who he is told represent a series of arrogant kingdoms. Then, out of nowhere, a figure called the Ancient of Days (that is, God) comes and sets up his throne, destroys the beasts, and exalts a figure called “the Son of Man” on the clouds at God’s right hand where he shares in God’s rule over the nations. Fast forward six hundred odd years and the meaning of this vision comes into focus. The Gospel writer Luke records these words that Jesus speaks of himself concerning the end of time: “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). Jesus’ claim here is that he was the “Son of Man” figure from Daniel’s vision. He is the one who came to this earth on behalf of the Ancient of Days to destroy humanity’s ultimate beastly enemy. And so, by his death and resurrection, Jesus has eternally wounded the great beast, Satan, and he will return on the clouds to overthrow him at last on the final day. This is what the Lord promised to do for Daniel in response to his troubles.
4. That is not the end of Daniel’s visions. As I mentioned earlier, our Old Testament Reading for today gives us the beginning and ending of Daniel’s final vision. So, as we reach Daniel’s final vision, which spans chapters 10-12, the “Son of Man” figure from Daniel’s first vision now appears to Daniel. This “Son of Man” explains to Daniel that there is something much greater than he realizes going on behind the scenes. There is a spiritual war being fought which Daniel cannot see, but the Lord, along with his angels, are fighting on behalf of his people. And then the “Son of Man” gives Daniel a glimpse of what must happen at the end of time: 1At 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. 2And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3And 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 (Daniel 12:1-3). The “Son of Man” tells Daniel that as the end of time approaches “there shall be a time of trouble” such as has never existed before. The church through the ages has wondered precisely what this “great trouble” is. Many thought that this “great trouble” was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. Others thought during the time of the Reformation that the “great trouble” was the unprecedented turmoil in the church. I have to imagine that some of us wonder today if our current global health crisis and the chaos it has brought about is that “great trouble.” I’ll admit, I don’t know if our current “great troubles” are the final “great trouble” which will immediately precede Jesus’ final coming or if they are simply a foreshadowing of it. But either way, our “great troubles” are a reminder that the end is getting closer. Jesus’ return is nearer now than ever before. To return to Jesus’ words from Luke 21: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). My friends, we need not fear the troubles around us. As our text reminds us, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people” (Daniel 12:1). We are reminded on this Feast of St. Michael and All Angels that we need not fear because the Lord Almighty has assigned his archangels and all the host of heaven to protect us from our unseen foe. Through his holy angels, the Lord preserves his people unto life everlasting. But watchful is the angel band That follows Christ on ev’ry hand To guard His people where they go And break the counsel of the foe. For this, now and in days to be, Our praise shall rise, O Lord, to Thee, Whom all the angel hosts adore With grateful songs forevermore (LSB 522:7-8).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.