Let’s admit it: Being part of the church can be pretty depressing. The days are long gone when most people thought belonging to a church was normal or a good thing to do. The numbers are not what they used to be, and it seems harder to keep up with all that has to be done. Do you ever wonder why you bother?
Yes, we remember Jesus’ words, ‘The harvest is plentiful…’ but we remember what comes next, ‘but the workers are few.’ (Matthew 9:35-38).
‘And didn’t Jesus say something about needing more workers for the harvest? What can we do about that?’
‘Oh, I know! Let’s hire an evangelist to bring people to church! Maybe that will buy us a few more years.’
Is that how life in the church should be?
Where is the joy that Paul writes about here in Philippians 1? He’s not living in la-la land, dreaming impossible dreams about wonderful days for the church.
He writing from a Roman prison cell (v12-14). He knows that following Jesus means fighting every step of the way (4:3)! But he also knows that we’re in the fight together.
And that’s how we can look at the church and be filled, not with disappointment, but with joy, just like Paul! His joy came from partnering in the Gospel. And if we want to avoid the frustration and disappointment the church can easily give us, the only solution is by us being partners in the Gospel too.
Maybe this is a revolutionary idea for us, or maybe it’s something we know but we just aren’t very good at. But partnering in the Gospel is for every Christian.
I’ve lost count of how many times people have said to me recently, ‘The end must be coming soon, don’t you think?’
It’s tempting to think that everything will keep going as it always has. But the last couple of years makes that hard to believe.
Expecting Jesus to return soon is a basic Christian belief. But even while the New Testament was being written, people doubted that key part of the Christian message.
Peter writes in his second letter, ‘They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since your ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.’ (2 Peter 3:4-7). Don’t forget, God has interrupted our world to pour out His judgement before and He will do so again.
But are the present troubles in our world a sign that the final judgement is coming?
Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, He spoke of the signs of the end: ‘6 You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth-pains.’ (Matthew 24:6-8). So, within the lifetimes of Jesus’ first disciples, the birth-pains would start. The end is on its way! It’s not here yet, but when?
That’s the question so many people have asked: When?
Daniel asks it here in Daniel 12. But (have you noticed this about the Bible?) it doesn’t always answer our questions. Jesus did the same thing: People would ask Him one question, and He’d reply as if to say, ‘The more important question is this!’
The Bible isn’t a book to satisfy our curiosity. In the Bible, God answers the questions we should ask.
And we find that here. Daniel asks, ‘When?’ and God answers, ‘How?’ Daniel asks what the end will be like and when it will be, But God tells him to pay attention to how he lives before the end comes.
And that’s what we need to remember when we ask about the end of the world. Yes, it’s important! It matters, because what we think about the end of the world effects how we live now and where we will live when the end of the world is over.
God is the Almighty Ruler of the universe (Psalm 2). Every ruler in our world has received authority from Him (John 19:11 & Romans 13:1). And Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God had come into our world (Mark 1:14): When Jesus came, God’s kingdom came. That’s how our world is meant to be: with God being acknowledged as the ruler of men and women, boys and girls.
So, what should we expect to happen as God’s Kingdom spreads in the world God made?
Well, one way of looking at the world expects God’s kingdom to grow within the kingdoms of the world. That’s theological liberalism. It teaches that God’s people will bring peace to the world by living like Jesus. But it misses the fact that the world hates Jesus and will hate His followers too (John 15:18-19).
Or you might think that God’s kingdom will co-exist alongside the kingdoms of the world. That’s the Amillennial view: There will be friction, but really, the church and the world will pretty much live alongside each other for the rest of history.
Actually, a lot of Christians think that’s wrong. In fact, they believe that God’s kingdom will actually disappear from the earth! That’s the Pre-millennial view: At the rapture, all true believers, the whole church on earth, will disappear, and God’s plan for the world will shift back to the Jewish nation.
But what we’re seen here in Daniel is that God’s kingdom will continue through all of history. In fact, the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ will overrule all earthly kingdoms and fill the whole earth: “In the time of those kings [that is, while the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome still existed], the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever,” (Daniel 2:44). We could call that Post-millennialism.
Each vision that Daniel sees over his lifetime zooms in on that same truth in greater detail. He learns to see history from God’s perspective, and so should we. As God tells us in Ephesians 1:22, “And God placed all things under His [Christ’s] feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church…”
Daniel was concerned for God’s people (ch 9) and we should be too. We can see the trouble the church is in today, but we shouldn’t despair. And we can long for great things for the church, but we shouldn’t resort to the world’s methods.
But we should trust God and His sovereign plan for history.
See, history is not a random series of events. God isn’t sitting back watching the world go, passively waiting until time is up! As we’ve seen, God is actively working in the world throughout history to put everything under Jesus’ feet.
That’s always been God’s plan. Revelation 5 shows us that: there God has a scroll written on both sides and sealed with 7 seals. That scroll represents God’s complete and confirmed plan for the history of His universe. And only Jesus can open the scroll (Revelation 5:5).
What’s going on with the world? Have you asked yourself that question recently?
Often, it seems like the world is out of control! What will happen next? Who can guess?!
Sometimes it seems like the world is being controlled by powerful people. They get what they want. The rules don’t apply to them. But they get to say what the rules should be for everyone else.
Or we might get the feeling that the world is being controlled by evil forces. It can seem like there is something bigger at work behind the individuals and organisations trying to achieve their agenda. Is there something connecting and empowering the bad influences in our world?
Our understanding of our world is very limited. True, we know much more information about our world than any other time in history! But what we know is limited to what we see and what we experience, and what we can learn from other people. In a way, we can’t see the whole forest because all we can see are the individual trees.
But there is a different perspective on our world. In the Bible, God speaks the truth to us about ourselves and the universe that we live in. His perception is not limited like ours is. And His understanding is complete and perfect. Not only because He is the Truth, but because He is the Creator of everything, seen and unseen.
Daniel learned that, over 70 years, through a series of visions:
In chapter 2, God gave him the interpretation of the king’s dream: a statue representing successive powerful empires was destroyed by a rock representing God’s kingdom.
In chapter 7, God showed Daniel the very same kingdoms, this time looking like mighty beasts. But they were all held to account by the Ancient of Days.
In chapter 8, God showed Daniel the last two of those kingdoms as a Ram and a Goat, fighting it out for power.
In chapter 9, God spoke again. Daniel was praying because of these dreams and because of God’s promises to restore His people from exile in Babylon. And God promised an even greater deliverance: Jesus, God’s Anointed One, would be put to death to put an end to sin and its consequences.
Each of those visions zooms in on the previous one. Each one gets more detailed, and more realistic. And the same is true here in chapters 10-12. Here, in one epic vision, God focuses in even more on the third kingdom. And instead of images of unimaginable beasts, God shows Daniel explicitly that the future actions of human kings are under His control.
But even before we get there, there’s a bigger question to answer: Is God in control at all? And if He is, what does it mean for us?
What God will show us here is that we cannot understand our world without understanding God and how He rules our world. As God tells us here in Daniel 10, it is impossible to understand our world by looking exclusively at the human influences at play. What happens here is intimately connected to what happens in the spiritual world.
That understanding could leave us trembling. It might seem that our world is controlled, or at least influenced by evil forces we cannot see. But what God shows us here is that He is in control of the spiritual world too, and so He is the one we should turn to for help.
And if we are Christians, we have the privilege of speaking directly to God, wherever we are. So, why would we pray?