Listen to this story:
A gentleman walked in on a Revelation Seminar I was conducting, in the small country of Cyprus where I minister. At the end we had the opportunity to interact. “Does Revelation say what will happen to Cyprus?” He asked.
I knew where he was coming from. Cyprus is located in the eastern Mediterranean, a volatile neighborhood. Syria is almost a stone’s throw away. The existence of potentially high quantities of natural gas and oil in the area has raised the level of antagonism. The man wanted some assurance for the future.
I explained that Revelation is not so much about individual countries as it is about the development of the battle between good and evil, as it unfolds in human events. We parted on a good note. He didn’t come back.
Desire to Know the Future
The human mind is fascinated with the future. We want to know what lies ahead. Part of it might have to do with curiosity. More importantly it has to do with fear and power. Not knowing what lies ahead creates a sense of uncertainty, which in not always welcome. Fear. By contrast, knowledge is power. If we know what lies ahead, we can prepare for it.
If one peruses popular psychic prophecies or horoscopes (the internet is full of them), or God forbid, one was to consult a fortune teller, the info about the future is much more apt, tangible, personal, and intended to satisfy human curiosity. This is the reason that even though such foretellings have proved consistently to be off the mark, people return to them again and again, and put their trust in what this or that psychic has predicted.
The Biblical Outlook
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Biblical apocalyptic prophecy such as we find in Daniel and Revelation was not written to satisfy human curiosity. While it does highlight major events in human history, its main goal is to assure believers of the final triumph of God and His people. It focuses more on the big picture and less on the individual person.
This outlook becomes clearly evident in the story of Daniel and his three friends, under study in this week’s lesson. Captives from Jerusalem in Babylon, a distant and enemy land, they have favor with God and find it with Nebuchadnezzar too.
Daniel 2 is the first major prophecy where in dramatic circumstances God reveals to Daniel Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, thus saving the four young men and many others from death. The dream, is one of the most important apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible and outlines the flow of history from the time of Daniel right until the Second Coming of Jesus.
Yet, this prophetic assurance of the ultimate triumph of God and His people does not prevent an immediate predicament. Soon thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar decides that he is not too happy with God’s description of how the future will unfold. Instead of the anticipated four kingdoms, he decides that he wants his own kingdom to last forever and commands a golden image to be set to highlight the point, gold being the metal in his dream that depicted his kingdom. Not only that, but everyone is ordered to worship this golden image.
This turn of events puts Daniel’s three friends on the spot (Daniel is somehow not present in these developments), since their faith in God does not permit them to worship the image. They are brought before Nebuchadnezzar and their life is put on the line. While, ultimately, they are rescued by direct Divine intervention, their ordeal highlights this tension between assurance for the final outcome of the great controversy on the one hand, but uncertainty about the immediate future on the other.
The book of Daniel seems to oscillate between this assurance for the ultimate future, but uncertainty about life here and now. The prophecy of Daniel 2, is followed by the parallel prophecies of Daniel 7 and 8, the assurance of the coming Messiah in Daniel 9, and the more obscure but similarly assuring prophecies of Daniel 10-12. All end in the triumph of God.
Interspersed in between are the incident of the golden image (Dan 3), Nebuchadnezzar’s temporary madness (Dan 4), Belshazzar’s downfall (Dan 5), Daniel’s condemnation to the lions’ den and subsequent rescue, again through Divine intervention (Dan 6), and Daniel’s heartfelt worry about the fate of temporal Jerusalem (Dan 9). All these involve a sense of temporary helplessness.
Uncertain Times Ahead
This tension between present uncertainty and ultimate triumph exemplified in the book of Daniel well reflects the situation we face as Adventist Christians today.
On the one hand, we believe we know the main developments that lie ahead. And we have the assurance that Jesus will soon come to bring to an end the current miserable state of human affairs. This fills us with hope and assurance. We know how the “game” will end.
Conversely, in a more immediate context, certain aspects of the future seem uncertain. We face unprecedented challenges. How can we keep our youth enthused, excited about the Adventist faith? One might even add, how can we keep ourselves excited? I am a fourth generation Adventist, my children fifth. Nobody a hundred years ago expected that we would still be on this earth in 2018! Are we in danger of losing the urgency of our message?
Today the Adventist Church is more diverse than ever. How can we remain united despite our differences?
And beyond our Church there is the situation in the world. I remember the time when Communism appeared as a menacing threat. I remember the collapse of Communism and the euphoria that swept western societies. Many truly believed that a safer and more stable world was dawning. Today, nearly 30 years on, we know that this has not happened, and neither is it likely to. Politically, the world is becoming increasing destabilized. Religious fundamentalism is also growing. Like the gentleman who visited my Revelation Seminar, fear is growing. What lies ahead?
The simple answer is, we do not know what lies ahead in the immediate future. Today, perhaps as much as at any time in the past, we are called to live by faith. For the big picture, for the final outcome of things, we have assurance. Victory is assured. But for the everyday realities, for what is ahead of us tomorrow, or the day after, we have to live trusting in God and working for the best. We have to live by faith.
Faithfulness the Key
And in faithfulness. In turbulent times in the history of the people of God, the only anchor is faithfulness to God. Such can carry us through any circumstance. It was such faithfulness that led Daniel to prayer: “Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven” (Dan 2:17-18).
It was faithfulness that kept the three young men resolute: “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’” (Dan 3:16-18).
And it was a budding faith that returned Nebuchadnezzar from madness to kingship: “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Dan 4:34).
Faithfulness then is the element that can see us through in these turbulent times.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
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