At the height of its popularity, Publishers Weekly reviewer, Lynn Garrett, wrote of Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez, “It’s very evangelical and very American, this whole notion that if you know the right technique, the right form, that prayer will be efficient and effective. Kind of like golf.”
Like American Christianity, South African Christianity has grown accustomed to golf-swing solutions to life’s problems. Iain Duguid calls this “pragmatic optimism,” which has “affected evangelical churches as well. Encouraged by well-meaning Christian counselors and Christian political action committees, we too have come to believe that whatever is broken, we can fix. Just buy this book, vote for these politicians, come to these meetings, or pray this prayer, and everything will turn out well. You too can be slim, healthy, and sin-free in six weeks by following these simple steps. We have reduced sanctification and spiritual victory to a technique to be learned and mastered, almost like a golf swing.”
In chapters 10–11, Daniel was given a prophecy of the conflict that was to be faced by the people of God in the centuries to come. But what of the faithful remnant during this period? Would they be spared the ravages of satanic persecution? If not, how would they persevere, and what would be their reward for persevering? Chapter 12 addresses these questions.
While the immediate context speaks to those who would suffer under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, the lessons transcend that persecution and apply to all suffering saints in all ages.
Verse 1 speaks of a tremendous “time of trouble” that would unfold “at that time” (i.e. the time of Antiochus’s persecution, described in chapter 11). That “time of trouble” would affect, in particular, “your people” (Daniel’s people, the people of God). God’s faithful people had no reason to expect that he would deliver them from suffering in this time of trouble.
With no promise of deliverance from suffering in this life, the saints needed to know where to find hope. The answer lay in the truth of future resurrection (vv. 2–3). The rewards for faithfulness will be realised at the resurrection (cf. John 5:28–29; Revelation 20:11–15). A time is coming when believers will enjoy full and final deliverance. The doctrine of resurrection should thus be the Christian’s final hope and comfort (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).
The argument is strengthened in v. 4, where Daniel is told to “shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end.” In ancient Persian culture documents pertaining to a future generation (e.g. a will) were sealed to be preserved for the generation in question, so that that generation could study it and see that its terms and conditions were fulfilled. Copies might be distributed to the present generation, but an unaltered master copy was preserved for the generation to which it pertained. This prophecy was for a future time. These believers could expect persecution and even death, but vindication and resurrection were promised in the distant future.
Taken together, these verses teach us at least three important principles for suffering well.
First, we will suffer well when we do not expect deliverance from all suffering and opposition in this life. Golf swing Christianity is not biblical Christianity. In a democracy, we might have the privilege of campaigning for the protection of rights, but it should not surprise us when Christian values are opposed and trampled by the godless and God’s faithful people afflicted.
Second, we will suffer well when our ultimate hope lies in the promise of resurrection. Too often, we live as if we have hope in this life only and therefore lament the absence of deliverance from suffering. How pitiable if we look for hope in this life only (1 Corinthians 15:19)! Christian hope is fulfilled not in deliverance from suffering and death here, or even in a disembodied existence in heaven after death, but in the promise of final resurrection. If we will face suffering hopefully, we must embrace afresh the doctrine of resurrection.
Third, we will suffer well when, embracing the doctrine of resurrection, we carefully submit to Scripture. Hopeful living looks to the future resurrection and is fuelled in the present by Scripture.
The last phrase of v. 4 is difficult to translate, as evidenced by the different translations offered in English. The NASB may be best: “Many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.” The point appears to be that those experiencing the suffering here described would find knowledge and wisdom by going “back and forth” in the Scriptures—specifically, perhaps, in this prophecy itself. The understanding and insight necessary to persevere in suffering would be found in the word.
Two things would be true of those who searched the Scriptures in their suffering.
First, “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above” (v. 3a). They would shine as bright lights in a dark world. Their lives would be hopefully different as reflected the glory of God. The Scriptures would empower their holy living in persecution.
Second, through their commitment to Scripture and holy living, they would “turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (v. 3b). As they pursued holiness in persecution, they would also bear witness to the truth and urge others to live holy lives—both by discipling believers to holiness in Christ and by calling unbelievers to the righteousness of Christ.
As you meditate on Daniel 12 this morning, ask God to help you to face suffering with hope by not looking for immediate deliverance, by embracing the hour of resurrection, and by searching the Scriptures for wisdom in suffering.