Winston Churchill said of Russia: it is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” After months of studying Daniel for the 14 sermons I preached from it, I find these words strikingly apposite to describe much of this book of prophecy. So many parts of Daniel are as opaque as they are fascinating: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue in chapter 2, the handwriting on the wall in chapter 5, the four beasts of chapter 7, the “seventy weeks” of 9:24-27, and the mysterious numbers of chapter 12. Many times in preaching through a given passage in Daniel, I had to say, “I don’t know what this means.” And, I believe we should be wary of dogmatic assertions of interpretative clarity regarding the difficult passages.
However, at the end of the book in chapter 12, and in the midst of another cryptic prophecy of the end-times, Daniel (reporting the words of angel) declares with crystalline clarity the ultimate hope we have as the people of God. And that hope is the promise of resurrection: 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 (12:2). We may not know when Christ will return, and we may not understand all the details of the appearance of the Antichrist, but we can know with perfect certainty that one day Jesus will call all people from their graves, and those who are his will enjoy eternal life in a body that is new and incorruptible, never to die again (see John 5:28, 29).
Daniel’s vision of the future resurrection of believers is the hope God wants us to have as Christians. To be sure, when you die as a believer, though your body remains in the grave, you will go to be with Christ in glory (Phil. 1:23). But the hope the Bible gives you is not an eternity spent in a ghost-like, disembodied state. Rather, the biblical promise of heaven focuses on the day of resurrection, when your body and soul will united together forever, never to die again. Just as God’s purpose for us in creation was bodily life, so his plan for us in his work of recreation is redeemed bodily life.
Christian, is this your hope today? One of the many miseries that plague our life in a fallen world is living with the mortality of the body. We get sick, we suffer injury, we gradually weaken as we age, and ultimately we all face death. Though it’s not wrong to pray for healing, don’t set your hope upon it. God doesn’t promise health in this life, but he does promise resurrection in the life to come. Set your hearts on this.
And if you are not a Christian, receive Daniel’s words as a sober warning. Not only will God’s people be raised to everlasting life, but those who do not know God by faith in Christ will be raised to “shame and everlasting contempt” (v.2). Perhaps the weightiest word of all in this verse is “everlasting.” The horrors of living under the wrath of God will continue unabated forever, with no end and no prospect of relief. The only hope you have to escape this dreadful judgment is to submit to Christ in faith and obedience.
And we know this prophecy is true because it has already begun to be realized! The Bible says that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). In other words, though the day of resurrection for all people is still in the future, in principle that day arrived when Jesus burst from the tomb three days after his crucifixion. Not only do you have Daniel’s prophecy to anchor your hope, but you have the resurrection of your Savior as a seal to its truth.
But as you wait for this great day, how should you then live in this world? Daniel provides the answer in the final words spoken to him by his angelic visitor: But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days (Daniel 12:13).
“Go your way,” the angel tells Daniel. For you, Christian, this means go your way in this world and serve Christ with all your heart. Go your way and love others for the sake of Christ. Go your way and, by the grace of God, fulfill your God-given calling in this life. Don’t sweat the details of the end-times. If God wanted us to know when Christ would return, and exactly what would take place before he came, he would have made that clear to us. It is not for you to know these things. But you can know that God is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory far greater than your light and momentary afflictions in this life (2 Cor. 4:17). That glory is resurrection glory. If you belong to Christ, that is your hope. Go your way and serve the Lord, and know that you, like Daniel, “shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”
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