OT Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

2nd before Advent (Kingdom 3) – Daniel 12:1-3

These verses from the book of Daniel are important in the way they foreshadow a NT understanding of the resurrection of the dead, although there are some significant differences with, for example, Paul’s teaching on resurrection, notably in 1 Cor 15. But as always an understanding of the original context can led us in a completely different direction as we seek to understand what the original writer meant the original readers to understand by this passage. A good place to begin is to ask of v.1 ‘At what time?’ When a passage begins abruptly with a phrase like ‘At that time’ we get a very strong hint that we have come in half way through the story, and so we will need to look back to find the beginning. A helpful place to start is 11:40 which defines ‘this time’ as ‘the time of the end’, but even further back in 11:36 we get a list of the sins of ‘the king’, whom it is easy to identify as Antiochus IV, or Antiochus Epiphanes, who reigned from 175 – 164 BC. Note that the passage is very detailed about what he did wrong, but rather vague about his death (11:45), which suggests that this text comes from some time before his death, although well into his reign.

The picture we get is of an arrogant and ruthless man, whose name tells us that he is ‘God made manifest’, and who had no regard for any deity other than himself. Gathering to himself a gang of admirers, he went on a rampage conquering nations and taking their spoils. In particular he was known for his persecution of the Jews, and his desecration of the Temple. Previous Greek kings had tolerated Jewish culture and religion and left them to get on with it, but Antiochus reversed this policy, and subjected the Jews to harsh persecution, which led in time to the famous Maccabean revolt from 167 to 160 BC.

So the ‘this time’ of 12:1 is a time of trouble for the Jews, a time of fear and distrust of their monarch and his cronies, and a time when the godly suffered and the wicked appeared to prosper and grow rich and fat. It was a time of injustice when the cries of the righteous must have included ‘How long, O Lord?’ When is all this going to be sorted out? When are our corrupt rulers going to get the punishment they so justly deserve? The time of distress described in v.1 is of course ‘this time’ during which the author was writing, and through which the people were living.

So the promise of resurrection is not so much about a Christian hope of eternity with God in the everlasting all-you-can-eat buffet: it is about a reversal. Since there seemed to be very little hope of anything changing now, when the ruler held such untouchable and corrupt power, and when any change of policy would be like turkeys voting for Christmas, the only hope lay in the future. Those who had been the victims of the cruelty of the king would rise to a new life where their fortunes would be diametrically changed, and presumably those who were not ‘wise’, another way of saying ‘godly’, would miss out on the rewards of the persecuted, and receive instead ‘shame and everlasting contempt’. This passage then is not merely a celebration of eternal life, but rather a celebration of the justice of God, his reign becoming fully manifest, and the restoring of a right balance in the world.

I will leave it to my dear readers to consider any parallels to our current times, but I think two issues are raised here: the need for faithfulness and the need for justice. Many passages in the NT which speak of the ‘end times’ call for steadfastness or patient endurance on the part of the saints. Only this morning I was listening to a podcast which suggested that interest in faith and religion has always declined in times of national trouble, and those who remain faithful are in the minority. The fact that a prophet is talking about the current crisis encourages us to believe that in spite of it all God does know what he is doing, and that nothing takes him by surprise. He will have the last word, and those who have remained faithful to him will be there to share it.

Secondly, though, this text, like so many more in the Bible, contrasts eternal joy with shame and punishment. As the Church increasingly preaches a gospel of ‘unconditional love’ and as a universalist approach which thinks that God is far too nice ever to exclude anyone from heaven grows in popularity, we do well to consider how the Jews who were enduring such persecution would have felt about this idea. I suspect rather like we might feel about the idea of Hitler or Bin Laden being welcomed into heaven. The God of righteousness revealed throughout the Scriptures is never seen as being so inclusive that even unrepentant sinners, who have wreaked havoc on so many lives, are OK really. Justice cries out for punishment, and if that punishment doesn’t come in this life, it surely will in the next.

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