“Days of Darkness Lie Ahead” (Daniel 8:1-27)
Listen to the Sermon:
In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. 2 And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the citadel, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. 3 I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. 4 I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.
5 As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. 6 He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. 7 I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. 8 Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.
9 Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. 10 It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them. 11 It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. 12 And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper. 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” 14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”
15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. 16 And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” 17 So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”
18 And when he had spoken to me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground. But he touched me and made me stand up. 19 He said, “Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end. 20 As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. 21 And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. 23 And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. 24 His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. 25 By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. 26 The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”
27 And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. Daniel 8:1-27, ESV
When Daniel eight opens, we learn that Daniel is now in the third year of the reign of the King Belshazzar. If you remember throughout trek through Daniel thus far, King Belshazzar was the last of the rulers of Babylon. This vision, like the previous one we saw in Daniel seven, is set at some point between the events of Daniel chapter four and Daniel chapter five. At this point in Daniel’s life, he had been in exile for some 55 years, give or take.
His hope throughout this lengthy time in exile was that one day God would draw his people out of Babylon and return them to the land of promise. His hope was that one day the temple that Nebuchadnezzar had burned to the ground fifty-five years earlier would be rebuilt and, in the process, the right worship of God that was instituted in the Mosaic covenant, would also return. His hope was that upon returning to the land that the Davidic king would again sit on the throne as well and that God’s people would again be who they were called to be.
When Daniel seven opened last week, Daniel learned a very important lesson. That is that while there is great hope in store for God’s people. One day in the words of Daniel 7:27, “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdom over the whole heaven would be given to the saints of the most high.” While there is great hope in store for God’s people, there are many long and difficult days that lie ahead.
In Daniel eight, that very same message that many long and difficult days lie ahead, is pressed upon Daniel with more immediacy and more directness. Even though this return from exile is within reach, historically speaking it’s a little more than a decade away.
Such a return, that God promised in the scriptures, would one day take place and would bring about the reinstitution of many good things such as the institution of the temple and temple worship. Daniel learns that when God’s people are finally allowed to settle back into the land of promise, that wouldn’t signal an end to their troubles.
Even back in the land, Daniel learns, they would still face unrest, deep injustices, sin, prolonged servitude under various nations, and a concrete historical type of that mocking horn that was introduced for us in Daniel chapter seven. In other words, there are some disturbing and painful realities that God’s people, even back in the land, will have to face. Therefore, while they should desire and hunger for life back in the land, Daniel learns that they also need to look beyond a simple return to the land.
Last week you may remember that when I introduced apocalyptic literature, I quoted an author that said that while apocalyptic literature like what we have in Daniel seven, eight and beyond, is all about proclaiming real hope, it refuses to do that by ignoring the realities of evil regimes that dot the landscape of human history.
Here in Daniel eight, Daniel is called to consider some of that evil that lies in his near future from a close-up perspective. In that way he also invites us into some of the real evil that we face in the City of Man so that we would know how to navigate it. Also that we would remember our ultimate hope is not in what is perishable and that we would also know, as one pastor put it, that the God who discloses the future also controls the future.
Our big idea this morning is this, God’s people will face opposition, but God will overcome it.
In our study of this passage, we will look at this text in three parts.
1. The Turbulent Days Ahead
2. The Terrible Days Ahead
3. Faithfulness in the Days Ahead
Ordinarily when we work through passages, I like to try to move us sequentially through it, but today we are going to consider what Daniel sees and the various interpretation that belongs to that together in chunks. We are going to be moving around a little bit.
The Turbulent Days Ahead
We see that when this vision opens in apocalyptic fashion, Daniel is transported to a place called Susa in the province of Elam to the Ulai canal. This is about two hundred miles to the east of where Daniel is at present in the exile in Babylon. It would be, if you looked at a map, it would be probably modern-day Iran where Daniel was transported in this vision. Susa is what would later become the capital of Persia, the empire that would very shortly overthrow Belshazzar and Babylon.
The time of Judah’s exile may be waning. Daniel’s hope is that his people will return from exile in almost a decade’s time. It’s nearing its fulfillment. Daniel is forced in this vision to turn away for a moment from facing westward towards Jerusalem as he so often did in his prayers if you remember back to Daniel six. Instead he is forced to take a journey of some kind eastward, the complete opposite direction to consider some of what they will have to face on their horizon even when they are allowed to return to the land.
Daniel is transported in this vision and as he is, he sees this ram with two horns. There is a smaller horn and a larger horn charging this way and that. Nothing, the text tells us, could stand before it. We learn in verse four, “he did as he pleased and became great.”
In a moment we will come back to the identity of this ram and what exactly Daniel has to tell us about this ram. Before Daniel has time to consider this imposing ram, his attention shifts in a moment to this male goat with a single horn between his eyes, coming from the opposite direction with such speed and ferocity that his feet don’t appear to even be touching the ground. That’s how I imagine myself when I run.
When the goat approaches the ram, it makes the power of this ram seem pathetic by comparison. In his wrath, the goat takes out his ram, tramples him to death and becomes exceedingly great himself. As this goat stands in victory, the single strong horn between his eyes is broken off and four other horns arise in its place toward the four winds of heaven.
To review, we have a ram with two horns which leads to a goat with one horn which is broken off and replaced by four horns.
Ordinarily in apocalyptic literature we are usually treading on shaky ground when we begin to speculate about who various symbols and images represent. If you remember in my introduction to apocalyptic literature last week, I mentioned that images and symbols very rarely have a simple one to one correspondence where you can say that this equals that, and this equals that and that is it.
However, there are a few times in apocalyptic literature when the text tells us explicitly that an image or symbol corresponds to a particular historical or theological reality. That’s the case that we have here in Daniel chapter eight. Look with me at Daniel 8:20-22, where the angel Gabriel steps onto the scene and provides an interpretation for Daniel to these animals.
20 As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. 21 And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. Daniel 8:20-22, ESV
Whereas the vision in Daniel seven was much broader in scope, it moved from Daniel’s day, to Christ’s victory some 550 years later on the cross, then moved into this inter-advent period between Christ’s ascension and the time that he promises that he will return again, then it moved us even beyond that to the end of history itself.
Whereas Daniel seven moved us in all of these cosmic directions, this vision in Daniel eight zooms in and peers into a very particular historical reality, which would cover about four hundred years from the time Daniel see it until the time that it ends.
Historically in about a decade from when Daniel has this vision, the kingdom we know as Medo-Persia would come barreling down on Belshazzar and Babylon. If you remember in Daniel chapter five that was the last night of King Belshazzar, he would die that very night. After he died the kingdom of Medo-Persia came on the scene and became the nation that oversaw the affairs of God’s people.
This is the kingdom that Daniel sees represented by the ram. We are told explicitly this in verse twenty. The larger horn is probably symbolic of Persia and the smaller horn is probably symbolic of Media, another kingdom. These were at one time two separate kingdoms that were united together as one. In about a decade they would conquer Babylon under the reign of King Cyrus.
When King Cyrus came on the scene, he would allow Jews like Daniel to return back to the land of promise. That was good news. In about ten years’ time this kingdom Medo-Persia would come on the scene and God’s people would be free to return to the land.
Unfortunately, that still wouldn’t mark the end of their troubles. Even under this new kingdom Medo-Persia, and we could look at Ezra and Nehemiah that showed life back in the land wasn’t always a peachy affair.
That’s the first thing we see. What happens next? After this ram with two horns, Daniel sees a goat with a conspicuous horn take out the ram and trample it to death. Who is this? The text tells us in verse twenty-one that the goat is Greece and the horn between his first eyes is the first king. Historically, about two hundred years after Medo-Persia conquered Babylon, they would be conquered themselves by a guy named Alexander the Great, who virtually all commentators agree is represented by this conspicuous horn between the goat’s eyes.
Would this new kingdom Greece give them back their autonomy in the land? Would they stop taxing them and let them be an independent people once again? No, God’s people would continue to be pawns under Greece and Alexander the Great in the larger geopolitical maneuverings in the ancient world.
Daniel’s vision doesn’t stop there. Then we learn that this little horn was broken off and four horns rose in its place. Alexander the Great was said to have conquered the world by age twenty-six. By age thirty-three he lay dead from a mysterious disease. After his death, his kingdom was split into four parts.
The Jews in Judea were subject at any point of time at one of two kingdoms for the next few centuries down the road. Either the Sceluisid dynasty to their north of the Tulelaic dynasty to their south.
So again, to review, we have Medo-Persia, then Greece under Alexander the Great, then four kingdoms that come out after Alexander the Great dies, of which God’s people were subject to one of two of them.
For all of these dizzying details of history that Daniel alludes to in this passage. Daniel doesn’t see in all its particularities and we only do in retrospect.
There are a couple of important lessons that Daniel has to grasp in this and that you and I have to grasp in this. Although there are turbulent days ahead for God’s people back in the land of promise. Cyrus the king of Persian may release the Jews back from exile in Babylon, they are still going to be subject to kings and kingdoms for centuries down the road.
Though this history may even be crushing for people assuming that life ack in the land would be something of a utopia, Daniel is reminded in this text that these other kingdoms, these powerful kingdoms that we know in retrospect in the world stage, are ultimately just tame animals under the authority of the Lord.
Ian Dougwood writes, “These empires that to human eyes look so powerful that seem to have no weakness or chinks in their armor were actually merely sheep and goats whose destiny lay in the hands of the divine shepherd, the Lord himself.”
Whatever the threats that rage, we need to come to know what Daniel came to know. There may be many ominous and foreboding enemies on our horizon. It may seem that just as soon as one threat that rages against Christ and his church, then another takes his place. Yet we see that these threats and events and kingdoms are all held in check by the Lord.
The Lord sets up kingdoms, the Lord tears down kingdoms. Nothing falls outside of God’s providence. This is the message we have heard over and over again in Daniel. Even despite all of the details and particularities that we encounter in this text, that same message isn’t obscured. The Lord sets up kingdoms and the Lord tears down kingdoms and the kingdom of God will endure forever.
If this is the encouragement that we are meant to take away from this wild history that Daniel surveys in this goat and this ram, there is also an implicit warning in all of this too. It’s a warning that I think is summarized so poignantly for us in Psalm 146:3-4,
3 Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Psalm 146:3-4, ESV
Friends, when we encounter hostility against God and his people in whatever form or fashion that might take, the temptation I think might be to give in least we find ourselves on “the wrong side of history”. What Daniel reminds us in this vision is that the kingdoms of this world are perishable.
When Hitler arose to power in 1933, he announced that he would be ushering in renaissance and a 1,000 year Reich. Yet twelve years later when Soviet forces circled in our Berlin, he killed himself in a bunker. Other kingdoms throughout world history have fared slightly better than twelve years, but what history has shown over and over again is that when one kingdom rises, another falls.
The warning in this passage is do not put your trust in perishable kingdoms that do not last. Nor in movements or trends that are bound to fade. The only way for us to ever be on the wrong side of history would be for us not to align ourselves through faith in Christ alone with the God who controls all history.
So, Daniel sees in this passage turbulent days that are ahead for God’s people. They need to prepare themselves for what they face when their exile in Babylon concludes and they are back in the land.
Unfortunately, that’s not all that we learn in this vision. As Daniel sees it, there are not only turbulent days ahead, but there are also some horrifically terrible days ahead as well. This leads to our second point.
The Terrible Days Ahead
So, after this vision of the ram and the goat and the four horns, we learn that something else happens. We see in verse nine that this little horn grows out of one of the four horns and becomes exceedingly great toward the south, the east, and the glorious land which alludes to the promise land the God’s people would return to in about a decade when the Persian king Cyrus comes to power.
It’s one thing to know that God’s people are going to be subject to other kings and kingdoms down through the ages. It’s another thing to know that one of these kings is going to put you directly in their crosshairs. This is what we have in the little horn that becomes exceedingly great. It turns towards the glorious land, puts God’s people in its crosshairs and seeks to inflict horrors upon them.
We learn in our text that this horn disrupts the worship of God. It takes away the regular burnt offerings and throws truth to the ground. It destroys many and even sets out to make war on God himself. So, of course the natural question arises, who is this little horn who becomes exceedingly great? In verse twenty-three he is identified as a king of bold face. Who in the world does this represent?
This is a matter on which almost everyone is agreed, which is rare when you encounter stuff in apocalyptic literature. Daniel is glimpsing into the future reign of a king who would arise some 375 years after this vision, name Antiochus IV. Antiochus came to power in about 175 BS out of the Seleucid Dynasty. Remember in Greece, you’ve got four kingdoms. The Ptolemaic and Seleucid would battle for control over God’s people. One of these kingdoms, the Seleucid, would raise up a king named Antiochus IV.
When he came to power he was in control of Judea. While his predecessor maintained this fairly peaceful relationship with the Jews in Judea, Antiochus IV did not. Shortly after ascending to the throne he enacted policies towards Jews in the land that would eventually culminate in brutal tyranny against them.
Antiochus’ brutality started when he first proclaimed himself to be a god. He proclaimed himself to be Antiochus Epiphanies, which means “god appearing”. Then after enacting policies that were unfavorable in Judea, he responded to growing opposition and concern from God’s people by almost doubling down on his authority. He began accepting bribes to the high priesthood. Eventually he appointed someone who wasn’t a high priest at all, a Benjaminite.
This wasn’t the worst of it. While he was off fighting a military campaign in Egypt, this rumor spread in Jerusalem that he had been killed in Egypt. God’s people rejoiced and the Jews tried to reinstitute the lawful priesthood. The problem was that Antiochus didn’t die and when he returned home, he responded with brutality by looting the temple and was even said to have massacred 40,000 Jews in three days.
When the next year rolled around Antiochus set about on another military campaign in Egypt. This time he was stopped by another growing power to the west called Rome, who sent him back in his tracks toward home. Whether out of frustration or humiliation or both at being defeated, on his way back home, he stopped off in Judea and took his anger out on the Jews in Judea.
This time he went even further than at first. He and his soldiers massacred Jews on the sabbath, on a day when they wouldn’t fight back. They looted and pillaged throughout Jerusalem. Went into Jerusalem temple and rededicated it to Zeus. They sacrificed swine on the offer and prohibitive the regular sacrificial offering. They prohibited circumcision and sabbath observance on pain of death. They banned and burned copies of the Torah. In every town in Judea they commanded that sacrifices be made to pagan gods.
These horrors that Antiochus was inflicting seem to be what Daniel sees anticipated here in Daniel eight. More than simply being a tyrannical ruler who oppressed some people, Daniel sees in this a war against heaven itself. A war of the powers of darkens raging against God in heaven. We learn in visionary fashion in verse ten that this evil horn threw down some of the host and stars to the ground and trampled them.
In verse twenty-five we learn that he even rose up against the Prince of Princes. In apocalyptic fashion, Daniel exposes the theological horizons of Antiochus’ exploits. In rising up to make war on God’s people, it is as if the powers of sin and darkness and the devil that lie behind his exploits are also rising up against God himself.
We see in all of this then that Daniel is being exposed to and exposing for us the terrible days that are going to lie ahead for God and his people back in the land. Their future doesn’t look promising, it appears quite bleak. where in the world is God in all of this, the one who had such great power over the beasts in Daniel seven. Where is God?
Two things need to be said here. First, we learn that despite the terrible days ahead, these terrible days are limited. In verse fourteen we learn that they are limited to 2,300 evenings and mornings. There is some debate about what these days align to in Antiochus’ persecution, but whatever we make of that question, commentators agree here that although this seems like a long period of time, it’s nonetheless a limited period of time.
This persecution will come to an end, it will not be the final word and it will not be endless. Although God’s people are going to suffer great loss through it, the promise is that God will preserve his church through it.
Second thing we learn in this is that this historic expression of persecution is a manifestation of a larger conflict in which the Lord is indeed actively engaged. Notice that again throughout this conflict Daniel sees the veil pulled back to reveal that the Heavenly Host and even the Prince of Princes himself are actively engaged in this conflict.
Ian Dougwood again writes, “Daniel’s God is not smugly watching from a distance. He is involved in our daily warfare against evil right alongside us. Those who assault us are at the same time assaulting our God.”
Friends, that is good news. While we are not really given an answer in this text as to why all of these horrors befall God’s people in the land, we learn that the Lord has involved himself in the plights of his people. It’s as if our battle against sin and darkness and the devil in whatever form and fashion it takes is his battle. At the end of it evil will be broken and God’s people will be vindicated.
Historically, after Antiochus raged for about 2,300 evenings and mornings, whatever it means, someone named Judas Maccabeus led a rebellion against Antiochus and ushered in a gold age for Judaism in Judea. While Antiochus and Jews in Judea experienced this golden age, it didn’t break the underlying forces of sin and evil of which Antiochus is but one manifestation. Nor did it offer the lasting rest that God’s people could never find back in the land. Nor did it deal with the problem of sin and transgression in the hearts and minds of God’s people themselves.
Instead it would require somebody not like Judas Maccabeus to lead a revolt. It would require the Lord himself to step into human history in the person of Jesus Christ to deal absolutely and finally with the root problem of evil and sin that lies at the heart of this conflict and every conflict between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of heaven.
Of course, some two hundred years after these events that Daniel sees prophesied, our Lord Jesus Christ would show up on the world stage and would indeed break the powers of sin and death for us and for our salvation. He would offer us true rest. Not in a kingdom that we look upon with our eyes in the City of Man, but a kingdom that we behold by faith now in the City of God. Then one day we will behold it by sight when Christ Jesus comes again on the clouds to bring us home.
This is the hope held out for us, even amidst all of the dire prosecution prophesied in this passage. In the meantime, while we rest in Christ as his people and we wait for Christ to come again on the clouds as he so gloriously did in Daniel seven and will do at the end of the age once again. The question for us is how do we live out our days with faithfulness in the days ahead?
Take a look at how Daniel responds to all of these perplexing details and prophecies of horror that are inflicted in his own day.
Faithfulness in the Days Ahead
In verse twenty-six Daniel learns something that we have been assuming all along. Namely that this vision refers to many days from now. Daniel sees this vision as a relatively old man, he knows the end of his life is drawing to a close. He may see his fellow exiles in Babylon return to Judea in ten to fifteen years’ time. But he is going to be long gone when this goat comes dashing across the land and the little horn rages against God’s people.
Yet, even though he knows that he will be long gone when things get bad, how does Daniel respond to this vision? We read in verse twenty-seven,
27 And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. Daniel 8:27, ESV
Is Daniel relieved to learn that these things won’t happen in his lifetime? No. Is he relieved to learn that his friend’s children and their children won’t live to see any of this stuff either? No. In fact he is sick to his stomach that God’s people in any age would be exposed to such horrors as he sees prophesized here. Daniel epitomizes someone who has so embraced the purposes of God in the world that it doesn’t matter how involved he is in them. His concern and God center focus mirror what we find with Paul who is profoundly distraught in the book of Romans at the prospect that many in his own day would fail to embrace Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul says,
2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Romans 9:2-3, ESV
That is Daniel’s approach too. He is grieved at the prospect that the people of God in any age would encounter such horrors that he sees prophesied here. How would you respond to something like that? Is your heart and mind so wrapped up in the things of God that the very prospect of spiritual atrophy in your families, in your church, among your friends, or in the wider global church among people you have never even met before would so grieve you that it leaves a pit in your stomach? This is Daniel’s concern.
It’s Jesus’ concern when he weeps over Jerusalem. Is it yours? Friends, when we belong to Christ we also belong to his body and while that is a great privilege, that should also shape our concerns accordingly.
Once Daniel gets past this initial shock, what does he do next? We read in verse twenty-seven, “then I rose and went about the king’s business.” In other words, Daniel gets back to business. Though he sees visions of cosmic proportion in Daniel seven and in Daniel eight, he has glimpsed into some of the terrors that lie immediately in the future of his kinsmen and he has seen the glories that await the people of God at the end of the age. He also understands that this doesn’t nullify the faithfulness that God calls his people to in the very ordinary stuff of life.
Rather than getting carried away to the heights of the glorious hopes held out to him in Daniel seven or sinking to the depths of despair in light of what he hears in Daniel eight, Daniel plods along in doing what God has called him to do in service of the king.
We know that in Christ there is a glorious future that waits us. We also know that in Christ this City of Man is not our hope and we will deal with sin and wickedness in one form or another all the days of our lives. We don’t know when Christ is going to come again and don’t believe anyone who tells you differently. We don’t know exactly how the forces of evil are going to manifest themselves in our lives, but we do know that God has called each of us to very particular callings. Callings in the home, callings in the workplace, a calling to belong to his body.
Rather than getting carried away worrying about all of the particulars of our future, pursue faithfulness as dearly beloved children of God through Christ in whatever it is that God has called you to do.
So, in closing I want us to consider for a moment a few ways to apply this text.
1. Don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you as to test you as though something strange was happening to you. If you haven’t been with us in our Sunday school, that is a quote from 1 Peter 4:12. Last week after the service I was talking to Mike and he remarked about all the thematic similarities between Daniel and 1 Peter. We see that even in this passage.
Peter exhorts us in his epistle not to be surprised when we suffer as Christs because after all we are exiles and strangers who hold citizenship not in the City of Man. Why would we expect a better reception in the City of Man than our Lord got? When we experience real cost for being disciple of Jesus Christ, we should not be surprised about that.
In many parts of the western world, the days are waning when claiming allegiance to Jesus Christ is seen in any way as a virtuous thing. Know that, don’t expect great gain from this world for being a disciple of Christ.
We don’t experience the awful persecution that was inflicted by Antiochus on God’s people, but in many parts of the world they do. Even today Satan works behind the scenes and little horns that work throughout human history to oppose and oppress God’s people.
Even though we don’t have a sacrificial system like Israel had which Antiochus took away for a time, Satan still tempts us to embrace versions of Christianity that are devoid of sacrifice.
Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Beware of anything purporting to be Biblical Christianity that does not emphasize the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice for our forgiveness or teaches a style of discipleship that avoids the daily bearing of the cross. Such teaching does not come from above but from below.”
Do not expect the Christ life to be an easy life where we will float to heaven on a cloud when our days are up. That’s not to say that there is not great hope and of course that’s not to say that it’s not worth it. It is, it’s supremely worth it. Do not be surprised as disciples of Jesus Christ when the fiery trial, whatever it looks like, comes upon you.
2. Don’t look for pragmatic answers alone to solve problems that are spiritual at their core. Let me explain. I remarked in the opening of the sermon that for a people in exile, this prospect of returning back to the land of promise was a great hope to anticipate. They were right to long to return to the land and everything that would bring for them. One of the implications of Daniel eight is that this return will not solve the fundamental problems that they face.
As good as life in the land was, it was still perishable. As important as worship in the land was, it was still just a type and a sign and a shadow of the greater temple that was to come, Jesus Christ.
One of the lessons that Daniel learns in this passage is to look beyond the return to the land and not oversell, as good as it was, the land and a return to the land as the cure all to the spiritual problems and conflict that God’s people face.
Just as those in Daniel’s day could potentially fallen prey to this frame of mind where they viewed return to the land as this cure all to everything they face, so too we could fall prey to a similar kind of thinking by assuming pragmatic fixes in our lives, as good and as needed as they might be, will solve problems that at their core are spiritual in nature.
As fathers or husbands, and I preach to myself in this all the time too, we could fall prey into the trap of thinking that any struggles we have at home and leading our family or in spending quality time with them and in the word simply boils down to the fact that we need to get past the busy season at work and things will be sunshine and rainbows.
Maybe we think that the cure all to intense dissatisfaction in the single life is marriage. Once I get married, then I will be content. As students we just assume that I need to graduate or finish my workload this semester and when I do, I will be able to actually spend time in the word and serve in the church.
Whatever the presenting issues we face in this life, Daniel invites us to see that our presenting problems may be and often are spiritual issues that have to be dealt with at their core in a spiritual way.
3. Learn to lament with faith the dark days that lie ahead. In verse thirteen we hear this exchange between two angels.
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” 14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” Daniel 8:13-14, ESV
This cry, how long, is a cry that we encounter over and over again in scriptures. This is the cry that is typical of lament. We hear in Revelation six the saints crying out from under the altar.
10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10, ESV
We read in Psalm 94:3,
O LORD, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult? Psalm 94:3, ESV
This is a cry that in Daniel receives a definitive response, 2,300 mornings and evenings. But very often in our own lives we don’t receive an answer like that. When we face the ravages of the City of Man and God calls us to walk ahead through many dark days, we too may cry out “how long”.
While in our specific circumstances we may not see as clearly as Daniel see, in another sense we see much clearer than Daniel sees. Whereas Daniel, as a prophet of the Old Testament, searched and inquired as to when the Spirit of Christ in him was indicating when he prophesized of these things, that’s from 1 Peter chapter one, we see much more clearly than Daniel because we see the one who Daniel points to, our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, we too may lament and cry out how long. Lament is a biblical thing to do, but we do not lament the dark days ahead in our own lives as a people without hope. The one who sits at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, ruling and governing with all authority over all things and in heaven above and on the earth beneath, has bound Satan and his minions from deceiving the nations any longer. He has already triumphed over sin and death. He has fully justified his people through faith in Christ alone and will at last break the forces of darkness finally and completely when he comes again on the clouds.
So, lament friends, lament and cry out “how long”. But lament with faith that we belong through faith alone in Christ alone to Jesus Christ.
Let me pray.
Almighty God, we thank you for your word. Even though at times we encounter many perplexing things like we do in this latter part of Daniel, we thank you Lord that the gospel message isn’t obscured. The gospel message that you are the Lord who rules and reigns in the heavens. You are the Lord who moves the wheels of history to their appointed end. We pray Lord that even as we encounter all of these details in your word, some of which are more peculiar than others and some of which we have a clear understanding into and others we don’t, that we would at the same time see and rest in the gospel message that you are king and that nothing stands outside of your authority and that as your people you will one day bring us home. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.