Things Even Angels Question

Scripture Focus: Daniel 12.5-6, 8-9, 13
5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” 
8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” 
9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel…13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” 

1 Peter 1.10-12
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. 

Reflection: Things Even Angels Question
By John Tillman

Most responses to apocalyptic prophecies start with what, when, where, why, or who.

Daniel asks questions. (Daniel 7.15; 12.8) John asks questions. (Revelation 10.9) Even the angels in Daniel’s visions ask questions. (Daniel 12.5-6)

Peter seemed to have this passage in mind when he wrote that even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1.10-12) The “these things” Peter was writing about are prophets, like Daniel, who searched with care regarding times and dates. Yet, Jesus also told the disciples, including Peter, that times and dates were not for them to know, but only the Father. (Acts 1.6-8)

End times prophecies are one of those areas in which well meaning believers can start missing the forest for the trees. We can become so obsessed with finding some little hint or clue regarding the life to come that we forget to live the life God calls us to now. 

Identifying a date, a time, a leader, a moment, won’t matter if we are not doing justice, walking humbly, and loving mercy (Micah 6.8). Knowledge can be a clanging gong and a symbol (pun intended) of self-interest rather than care for others. (1 Corinthians 13.1-2

Asking questions isn’t bad. But eventually Gabriel, instead of answering Daniel’s questions, tells him to move on. 

Two other humans in Scripture question Gabriel. In contrast with Daniel, who is strengthened to speak so that he may ask questions, Zechariah is struck mute for expressing doubt through his questions. Mary questions Gabriel, but instead of being struck mute is indwelt by the Holy Spirit to prophesy when she meets Elizabeth.

From Zechariah, we can learn that even without speaking, we can testify to the message of Christ.
From Mary and Daniel, we can learn that revelations and prophecies are sometimes meant to be rolled up and sealed until the proper time—to be pondered and treasured in our hearts rather than shared.

From all three, we learn that at the right time, our tongues will be loosed to sing (Luke 1.64, 67-80), our hearts will be moved to prophesy (Luke 1.41-55), and our scroll of revelation may be unsealed. (Daniel 12.9-10; Revelation 5.2-5)

We can follow the instructions Gabriel spoke to Daniel. (Daniel 12.13)
We can go. Move on from doubts and questions to faith and action.
We can rest. We can trust the outcome of life and eternity to Christ.
We can rise. At the proper time, in this life or the next, we will be raised up.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Short Verse
I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. — Revelation 1.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 12  (Listen – 2:40)
Psalm 119:49-72 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Breaking the Rhyme Scheme
Christians do not believe in cyclical, neverending, repetition. We know that an end is coming and a new beginning. However, history does rhyme.

Read more about Living Is Harder—Readers’ Choice
Living for Christ in the world often makes a larger difference in the world than dramatic sacrifices.

Breaking the Rhyme Scheme

Scripture Focus: Daniel 11.36, 45
36 “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place…
45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

Reflection: Breaking the Rhyme Scheme
By John Tillman

Daniel’s visions of nations and wars most directly depict the near future for the region leading up to Antiochus Epiphanes.

Many texts Christians today see as pointing to a future Antichrist, Jews prior to Christ saw as having been fulfilled in Antiochus. He was the villain-oppressor whose desecration of the Temple inspired the Maccabean revolt and the holiday celebrated today as Hanukkah. Jesus and the disciples are separated from this conflict by only a few generations and would have been familiar with it.

Daniel sees the same events through multiple visions that use slightly different images. To many this implies that the visions can have multiple interpretations and apply to more than one moment in history. New Testament writers seemed to see more than fulfilled prophecies of the past, but a pattern for the future. They looked to Daniel, echoing his style and language in their writing about Christ’s second advent. 

It can’t be proved that Mark Twain actually said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” However, he certainly expressed similar ideas. Behind this quote, there is a karmic concept of ever-repeating history that will never end. 

Christians do not believe in this kind of cyclical, neverending, repetition. We know that an end is coming and a new beginning. However, we can see through Daniel’s and other apocalyptic prophecies, that history does rhyme. There is a pattern to oppression. There is a template for empires. 

There have been many people biblical interpreters have thought followed the template of the Antichrist figure from Daniel: Diocletian, Nero, Hitler, etc. These men show us that there is a modus operandi for evil that will continue to repeat until Christ puts an end to history.

History does rhyme. It rhymes with oppression, suffering, violence, rape, racism, greed, destruction, and victimization of the most vulnerable. 

The distinctive belief of Christianity is that Christ will break this rhyme scheme. The rhythms of oppression will be rewritten. The drumbeat of violence will be silenced. The time signature of terrors will give way to rest. There will be new music that sings ever-repeating refrains of the love and faithfulness of our God.

Nations always rage and shake tiny fists. 
God always laughs; their victims he lifts.
Time will tock tick out, darkness will flicker out.
By God we’ll be kissed; our lightened souls he’ll lift.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation forever. — Psalm 12.7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 11  (Listen – 8:13)
Psalm 119:25-48 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Revelation of Love :: Love of Advent
Christ’s apocalyptic second Advent is about releasing God’s love and about releasing us to be received by God’s love.

Read more about Prepare for the End
Whenever and however “the end” comes, we can be soberly prepared, watchfully vigilant, and unwaveringly hopeful. If we suffer, let it be for doing what is right.

Facing a Biblical Disaster

Scripture Focus: Daniel 8.26-27
26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” 
27 I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding. 

Psalm 116.8-11
8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, 
my eyes from tears, 
my feet from stumbling, 
9 that I may walk before the LORD 
in the land of the living. 
10 I trusted in the LORD when I said, 
“I am greatly afflicted”; 
11 in my alarm I said, 
  “Everyone is a liar.”

Reflection: Facing a Biblical Disaster
By John Tillman

For some people the only use of the word “biblical” they are familiar with is as an adjective to describe the proportions of disasters. 2020 has brought multiple disasters described as being of “biblical proportions.”

Along with physical disasters, this year has brought the exhausting mental and emotional disaster of trying to sort out truth from the storm of misinformation and lies. Every problem we face seems to have competing sets of “facts” that conveniently paint one political side or the other as being the problem.

The unnatural disaster of conspiracy theories getting injected into churches by mainstream and fringe news outlets has caused spiritual and emotional trauma for many. How is it people who claim to know the truth that will set us free, have become unable to agree on basic truths? 

Christians have been filling up on bread with the yeast of conspiracy theories rather than the bread of life, and we are belching up harmful and hateful lies as a result. As Ed Stetzer has said, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”

Too many Christians follow political pundits more closely than Jesus Christ. Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages. They are more concerned with the status and power of their political party, than the health and productivity of the body of Christ, God’s Church. Many Christians would rather change churches (or fire their pastors) than face uncomfortable truths from the Bible that conflict with their political worldview. 

This is the true biblical disaster of 2020.

Many ask, “Are we in the end times?” I don’t know. I do think we are seeing what they are like. Visions of the end, as Daniel can attest, are exhausting and terrifying. Daniel tells us, wisely I think, that visions of the end are “beyond understanding.” Even with Gabriel’s explanation, he still couldn’t understand. 

May we mimic Daniel’s faithfulness through confusion and weariness, his caution in not sharing what he didn’t understand, and his focus on prayer and the scriptures.

Rest and trust in Christ. Your exhaustion and confusion is real and justified.
Lay anguish, rage, and sadness from this crisis-filled year at the feet of Jesus, rather than weaponize it against your brothers and sisters.
Go about our king’s business. Love one another well and share the good news (the gospel) that unites us rather than news that conspires to divide us.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Of Jesus, it is written; “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” — Mark 1.35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 8  (Listen – 4:39)
Psalm 116 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Daniel 9  (Listen – 5:22), Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)
Daniel 10  (Listen – 3:18), Psalm 119:1-24 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Worship and Politics
I have never heard anyone say that a politically tinged sermon which agreed with their politics was “too political.”

Read more about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
Politics is the most powerful new religion of this millennium…politics poses a greater threat to the gospel than any other religion.

Visions of Perspective

Scripture Focus: Daniel 7.1, 13-14
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. 

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, o coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. 

Psalm 115.2-8
2 Why do the nations say, 
“Where is their God?” 
3 Our God is in heaven; 
he does whatever pleases him. 
4 But their idols are silver and gold, 
made by human hands. 
5 They have mouths, but cannot speak, 
eyes, but cannot see. 
6 They have ears, but cannot hear, 
noses, but cannot smell. 
7 They have hands, but cannot feel, 
feet, but cannot walk, 
nor can they utter a sound with their throats. 
8 Those who make them will be like them, 
and so will all who trust in them. 

Reflection: Visions of Perspective
By John Tillman

The book of Daniel is not in chronological order. These visions of beasts begin during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign but we don’t read of them until after hearing of Belshazzar’s fall and of Darius who replaced him. 

These shocking visions, revealing the fall of Babylon and many other kingdoms, were so terrifying to Daniel that he was disturbed in spirit and physically exhausted for days. They seem to have changed him.

The Daniel entering Belshazzar’s feast in chapter five is no longer the Daniel from chapter four, who gave an emotional, pleading warning to Nebuchadnezzar. Years have passed. Daniel has seen things. He is older and more experienced. He’s seen his friends persecuted, his warnings ignored, and visions that terrified him. He is perhaps a bit cynical about the current state of the government. (Many of us perhaps can identify with that.)

Daniel showed concern and fear when telling Nebuchadnezzar of his coming fall into madness, but he does not shy away from directly rebuking Belshazzar. The change is dramatic. 

Daniel is no longer the bright young man attempting to prove himself or please the king. He bluntly throws Belshazzar’s offer of gifts back in his face. After all he has seen, he doesn’t need gifts to tell the truth. He doesn’t fear for his life after seeing the history of the world spun out into eternity. 

Daniel knows that this kingdom he has been working to prosper is about to fall. What good is Belshazzar’s offer of being the third highest ruler in the kingdom, when that kingdom will end before the sun comes up? What threat is being thrown to Darius’s lions after beholding the beasts of the future of the world?

More importantly, Daniel knows that, in the scope of the great beasts and the timeline he has witnessed, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus are, at best, tiny horns on the beasts of history. Belshazzar, in particular, is an inferior level of the statue from Nebuchadnezzar’s disturbing dream.

After seeing the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, how can Daniel be impressed by or cower before a human king? Oh that such a change of perspective could come over us.

Oh, Son of Man, enthroned! 
Oh, Ancient of Days!
May kings of earth be strangely dimmed
In the light of your glorious face.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Who is like you, Lord God of hosts? O mighty Lord, your faithfulness is all around you.
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and truth go before your face — Psalm 116.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 7  (Listen – 5:21)
Psalm 114-115 (Listen – 2:18)

Read more about Weighed and Found Wanting
We also hold in our hands wealth and power that we think we gained for ourselves but which came from God.

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest

Scripture Focus: Daniel 6.10-11
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.

Psalm 112.7-8
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

Reflection: Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
By John Tillman

Daniel’s daily prayer probably concerned his reading of Jeremiah’s prophecies about the return from exile. (Daniel 9.1-3)

Daniel’s prayer was not just any kind of prayer. Daniel prayed for God to forgive the sin of the people and return them to their homeland. This was a subversive prayer for the oppressed to be freed by the government Daniel served. 

Regardless of the topic of Daniel’s prayer, when a law was passed forbidding it, Daniel’s public prayer became a protest against injustice. 

Those who wish to regulate protests often say to protesters, “Not here. Not now. Not like this.” They may have told Daniel to pray at a different time or place. They may have told Daniel to pray in private, keeping his religion to himself. They may have told Daniel to pray silently, so as not to offend anyone. But Daniel did not allow anyone to dictate the timing and method of his prayerful protest for justice.

Daniel prayed in defiance of an unjust law. He was guilty before the law of the land, but blameless before God. He also remained blameless and unassailable in the righteousness of all his other dealings. He broke no other law in the course of his protest. 

Finally, Daniel faced the consequences of his protest without protest. He did not demand or expect to be spared. He trusted in God for justice, not in humans. 

We too, are exiles living in an unjust world. The corrupt followers of the corrupt systems around us are prepared to penalize us for resisting. In a corrupt system, incorruptibility is a crime.

When we protest injustice, no matter what is, we can follow Daniel’s model of publicly, prayerfully, and persistently protesting unjust laws in a just and righteous way. Daniel’s protest softened the heart of a king and changed the leadership of an entire nation. What might ours change today?

Pray this prayer for those living in and protesting injustice in a corrupt world: (Based on Psalm 112 and the proclamation of Darius in Daniel 6.)

Oh, God whose kingdom will not be destroyed
Rescue and save! 
As in heaven, work your will on the earth. 
From ravenous lions, save us, your servants.

Make the darkness light for the upright, 
The gracious, compassionate, and righteous
who conduct their affairs with justice. 
May hearts be steadfast
May the wicked be vexed, 
May justice longed for roll like rivers over them.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, you have done great things; who is like you, O God?
You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth,
You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me.
Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the harp, O holy One of Israel.
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed.
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long,for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm.  — Psalm 71.19-24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 6  (Listen – 5:18)
Psalm 112-113 (Listen – 1:49)

Read more about A Generational Lament
Prayers of lament and complaint are a healthy and fulfilling spiritual practice that can be entered into by individuals and communities.

Read more about Peter’s Unfinished Work
As evidenced by both the murder of George Floyd and some of the broken and tragic responses to it, the church has much work left to do.

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