Henry Ford famously quipped, “history is bunk.” Which is to say, why let the past distract us from the possibilities of the present and the future? Perhaps as good an indication as any that most Americans share Ford’s disdain of the past are the programs featured by the (so-called) History Channel. Turn it on and you’ll be instructed in such subjects of historical interest as: “Swamp People,” “Pawn Stars,” “Big Rig Bounty Hunters,” and our favorite up here in Alaska, “Ice Road Truckers.” All fascinating programs I’m sure, but not exactly an education in history. Evidently even the History Channel finds the past boring and irrelevant (or at least, terrible for ratings).
But the Bible has an entirely different view of the past. Have you ever thought about the fact that a great deal of Scripture is the record of God’s dealings with his people – in history? In the Old Testament we learn about the history of Israel; the New Testament records the early history of the Church. The reason the Bible is so concerned with the past is because God is the Lord of history. Far from being boring or pointless, history is nothing other than the unfolding of God’s eternal plan as he, in his sovereign rule, directs all things towards the purpose for which he has ordained all things. And that purpose is the glory of Christ, and the salvation of his people.
Chapter 11 of the book of Daniel testifies to this glorious truth. In terms of surface clarity, this chapter may be one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture to understand. Here Daniel records for us the words of an angelic visitor, who told him of events that would take place hundreds of years from his time. We read of a seemingly endless stream of kings and nations, of battles and wars. What makes this prophecy both fascinating and unique is the remarkable amount of detail Daniel provides. You can literally read his prophecy alongside a book of ancient near east history and see an exact correspondence between the two.
And I believe the reason God gave Daniel this prophecy in such minute detail was to highlight the truth that God reigns over all things with absolute control. He knows exactly what will happen in human history because he has ordained all things to happen that way, according to his eternal plan (Ephesians 1:11).
But the truth of God’s sovereignty over all things, including human affairs, seems harder to accept when you look more closely at what Daniel 11 describes. Here is a rogue’s gallery of arrogant and ruthless kings, fighting one another for dominance and territory, and leaving death and destruction in their wake. One king in particular whom Daniel describes, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175 – 164 B.C.), exceeded them all in his hubris and cruelty. He murdered tens of thousands of Jews, banned the worship of God, and took blasphemy to new heights by setting up an pagan idol in the temple (the “abomination that makes desolate” of v.31) to which he sacrificed swine.
Was God in control of all this evil, too? Was he sovereign over these wicked rulers and their unrighteous deeds? The answer is: absolutely yes. God is Lord of all history, even the evil in it: “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).
And this truth would have been a comfort for the Israelites in Daniel’s day. They needed to know that, although their fortunes seemed to depend on the whims of powerful rulers, or on the outcome of the conflicts between empires, in truth their lives were securely in the hands of their God. God was still God, even when it seemed that kings and nations were calling the shots and determining their future.
And today, Jesus Christ rules over all things as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). This should comfort the heart of every Christian, especially today. We may not be living in exile in a foreign land (as Daniel was), and we may not be suffering intense persecution (as the people of God did under Antiochus), but we live in a time of unprecedented moral upheaval. Before our very eyes, society’s understanding of such basic matters of life as family, marriage, and human sexuality is undergoing radical change. And the change is decidedly away from God’s standards of right and wrong in these matters, as revealed in his Word. This moral revolution is profound and far-reaching. And in the midst of it, we feel disoriented, helpless, and fearful.
But this is why we need to take to heart the truth Daniel 11 teaches. Christ is still Lord today, over the history of our time, and he has promised to accomplish his purposes in all things. The greatest proof of all that God uses even the darkest and most evil events in human history to further his gracious and good purpose is found at the cross. As Peter declared in his Pentecost sermon, although Jesus was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” he was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
God was Lord even over the cross. And through it he gave us eternal salvation. If that is so, Christ assuredly reigns over our times for our good. Thank God he is the Lord of history!