“Is the End Near?” – Daniel 12:1-3
Introduction: unfamiliar Bible parts
Out of the two Testaments in the Bible, I believe that a majority of you would say you are more familiar with the New Testament – the story of Jesus – than you are with the Old Testament. Out of the various parts of the lesser-known Old Testament, there are some parts – some people, some events – that are more well known… like Abraham and his journey to a new and promised land, and Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea, and David and the killing of Goliath. And while some of the history is more familiar to us, the lesser-known parts of the Old Testament include the content of the prophet books. Some of those prophet books are not as well known – like Daniel, the source of our Old Testament reading today. Even Daniel has well-known parts, and not well-known parts. For instance, we may be familiar with the account of Daniel being rescued from the lions’ den and the three guys being rescued from the fiery furnace. But not so familiar is the account of people being rescued from the times of tribulation and trouble that will come at the end of the age. Yes, there is some of that end-times stuff in the book of Daniel. In fact, after the lions’ den episode, the last half of Daniel is filled with visions, and interpretations, and predictions using language and symbols that are similar to those that we read about in the book of Revelation. It’s called apocalyptic literature… things that are hidden by numbers, and animals, and colours, and symbols… only to be revealed at the end of all things.
That’s what we’re going to look at today – just those first three verses of the last chapter of Daniel’s writing… and also the connecting themes from Mark 13. The sub-heading for Daniel 12 in my Bible simply identifies it as “The Time of the End.” And that leads to the sermon title for today: “Is the End Near?”
1. It looks/feels like it
I think a lot of people who are familiar with Biblical teachings about the end of the world and the return of Christ would say that it sure looks like the end is near, it sure feels like the end is near. We heard what Jesus said in our Gospel reading from Mark 13 – wars and rumors of wars… check; nation rising up against nation… check; earthquakes… check (thankfully not here!); famines… check. And He added, “These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
The beginning of the birth pains? Yes, we have seen the continuation of the birth pains recently, haven’t we? All the fires of the summer, the heat waves, climate crises, the pandemic, economic collapse, earthquakes, volcanos, tornadoes in Vancouver… is the end near? It feels like it.
And what did we hear from Daniel 12? “At that time – that is… the time of the end – At that time… there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been seen since there was a nation till that time.” Even Daniel – over 500 years before Jesus was born – was anticipating and writing about the last days. People throughout the centuries since Jesus have considered that they might be living in the last days.
500 years ago, Martin Luther had the sense that he was living in the last days. Luther saw that there was distress among the nations in his own day. Whenever a war occurs in any time in history the tendency is to consider that the present war is the worst of all, and the preceding ones were very mild in comparison. So it was with Luther, who said, “Wars at the present time are of such a character as to make former wars appear as a mere child’s play.” As another sign he mentions storms as they were never reported before. “There are such storms and tempests and waters rolling as have never before been seen or heard.” Well, he didn’t see our wars and storms!
There are all kinds of cartoons featuring prophetic characters with a sign reading: “The End is Near.” I like the one that features the prophet looking at his watch and counting down, “10, 9, 8, 7…” Then I saw a recent one with a man wearing a covid mask walking past that prophet. He glances at the prophet’s sign, and says, “I wish.” That’s the attitude of everyone in our world these days, isn’t it? I wish the end of covid was near!!
2. What we don’t know about the end
Let’s consider what we know about the end times and what we don’t know, and let’s start with what we don’t know. What we don’t know is when the end will come. Some modern-era prophets (or false prophets) have used some of the material in the last half of Daniel to predict when the end would come. They used some of the numbers there to figure out when they imagined the end would come. They ignored the fact that those numbers symbolized things and times and events that weren’t easily discovered. That’s why it is called apocalyptic, or hidden, literature. Twice in Daniel 12, it simply says “at that time,” with no specific reference – just at that undisclosed time, sometime in the unknown future. That’s what we don’t know.
We didn’t read this far in Mark 13 today (we will actually hear it next Sunday), but at the end of the chapter, while Jesus is still answering His disciples’ question about the end and the signs of the end, He says very plainly that no one knows the day or the hour of His return.
We don’t know exactly what that coming will be like. There are differing teachings and interpretations out there among Christians – like the rapture, and the millennial views. We believe that Paul makes it clear when he is talking about the resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of the dead, and the return of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15. He says it will be “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” There is no 3-minute warning, no 3-month warning, no 3-year warning that Jesus is coming back. The wars, and earthquakes, and famines – they are all our call to be ready and prepared.
Luther was so impressed by the precariousness of the times in 1528 that he expected the end to come before he had time to finish the translation of the Old Testament. For this reason he proposed to translate first of all the book of Daniel, which was to be brought as soon as possible to “the poor Christians” of these “last times” before everything perished. The imminence of the end was indeed uppermost in his mind: “Things are going toward their end.” And he added, “I hope the last day will not be long delayed, not over a hundred years.” As to the time of the end, Luther, following the plain teaching of Jesus, rejected the thought that it was possible for man to know the year. This view he expressed very forcibly in his commentary on chapters 11 and 12 of the book of Daniel.
3. What we do know about the end
But there definitely are some things that we know about the end. Daniel tells us some of those things, and Jesus tells us others. We have already talked about the signs during the time of trouble. Daniel 12 tells us that “at that time” some will awake or arise to everlasting life and others to shame and everlasting contempt… in other words, heaven and hell.
Five years ago, that’s what I asked my curling friend, Curt, over lunch one day. “Do you believe in heaven?” “Or hell,” he replied. I said, “Yeah… but heaven?”
That’s something that, in general, people just don’t believe any more. They don’t believe in heaven or hell, so there’s no reason to believe in God, there’s no reason to live for God, there’s no reason to obey God, there’s no reason to honour God or His name. The sad thing is that Christians don’t seem to believe in hell anymore either, or don’t seem to give evidence of it. If we truly believed that a friend or family member or co-worker was going to shame and everlasting contempt, we would be much more passionate about telling them who to connect with so that they will wake to everlasting life.
In that lunch conversation, five years ago, because an imaginary prophet was holding that “The End is Near” sign over his head, over his life, I went on to tell Curt what Jesus did so that when he died he would awake to everlasting life. In the course of the next couple of months, he came to believe in Christ, and I believe he is now in heaven.
You see, that’s another thing that we know about the end. Daniel says that those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake. “Sleep” and “dust of the earth” are kind and soft ways of speaking about death. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, that was one of the curses that God issued: “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
One Sunday a young boy sat in the pew at church and he heard the pastor talk about the Adam and Eve story, and the curse, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” A certain impression was made in the young lad’s mind. A couple of days later, his mom heard a scream from the boy’s bedroom. She ran up the stairs and he met her in the hallway. “Mom,” he said, “Do you remember that the pastor said we are dust and to dust we will return? I just looked under my bed and someone is either coming or going!”
Daniel is saying that God will recreate people who have died out of the dust that they now are. WOW! Isn’t that a great and reassuring thing!! Out of the dust God will raise the dead. That is a concept that is not unfamiliar. Out of the areas that were hit by forest fires this past summer will come new growth and life in the years to come. Out of the dust of death God brings forth new life, and we live in that new life from everlasting to everlasting. One of the songs on the Christian radio station that I have appreciated recently is a song called, “All Things New.” One of the lyrics of the song says, “From the ashes, from the dust, I will rise up, rise up. Out of darkness into the light I will rise up, rise up. You make all things new.” That’s what Daniel is saying – God will raise His people, His faithful people, out of the dust of the earth to new and everlasting life. That’s what we know about the end.
And who are the people who will be delivered, who will be raised up? Those whose names are found written in the book! What book? Revelation – another book of the Bible with apocalyptic images and numbers and colours and symbols – makes it clear that that book is the book of life, the book that contains the names of all those who have received Christ and God’s gracious gifts of salvation. So that’s another thing we know about the end… we know who will be in heaven at the end – all those with a saving faith relationship with Jesus. In Mark 13, Jesus said that we need to be prepared, to stay awake, to stay ready for Christ’s return. We need to be on guard for the end, but we don’t need to be afraid of it – through faith in Jesus, the end times are the glorious beginning times for us whose names are written in His book.
4. We have something to do while we wait
The last thing to wrap up today is to say that we have something to do while we wait for that last day to come. For that we turn back again to Jesus’ words in Mark 13. The last sentence in our Gospel reading featured these words of Jesus: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” That’s what we can do – endure, but more accurately pray for God’s strength to endure through whatever trials and troubles and storms the end times may bring so that we have the confidence that when that last day comes, or when our last day comes WE WILL BE SAVED by God’s grace in Jesus. So we endure in faith and in hope and in certainty because…
Well, let me tell you where my thoughts went on Thursday. It was Remembrance Day and I was thinking about everyone in our time zone observing the two minutes of silence at the same time. I don’t know who figured out the time of day across the world or how all our clocks and phones and computers are all so synchronized, so that we all observe our two minutes of silence at precisely the same time. But somebody did, and now I don’t even have to think about it. Oh, and somebody figured out how to generate electricity from the earth, so I just have to flick a switch and I’ve got light or music or dinner or TV. And somebody else figured out the internal combustion motor, so I just have to turn the key or push a button and my car starts. There are lots of things that we don’t have to really know about or figure out or do on our own because somebody else figured it out and now we just appreciate the fruit of their knowledge and efforts and imagination and expertise.
That’s the way it is with salvation. Somebody else did it – Jesus! He did it all. You don’t have to figure out how to make your sinful lives right with God. Jesus did it for you. He died on the cross. He forgave your sins. He established peace between you and God. He made you God’s holy and precious child. He secured your salvation. He guaranteed heaven. All you do is appreciate the fruits of Jesus’ saving work, and endure in faith and in hope and in certainty.
I don’t know if you paid attention to Jesus’ little sentence in verse 10. He says, “The Gospel must first be preached to all nations!!” That is perhaps a hint that the end is not here yet. I think there are some nations, some people groups in our world where the Gospel has not yet been preached. So, we have a sense that the end is still in the future. But it also gives us something to do to hasten that last day. We are called – even as the perils of the end times approach – to proclaim the Good News about Jesus to those nations and those people who haven’t heard about the Saviour. And in that witnessing of Jesus, we need not be anxious for the Holy Spirit will speak through us.
One day Luther saw his children standing around a table, and he noticed how their eyes glistened as they looked longingly on a dish of peaches. “This,” he mused, “is a pattern of those who rejoice in the hope. Oh, if only we would behold the last day with the same happy and fond expectation.” Let’s pray…
O Lord of truth and love, let us have no illusions about the world in which we live, for it is desperately wicked and unalterably opposed to the Gospel. Since it is doomed to final destruction, help us to testify against all sin, and proclaim Your blessed Gospel as the only hope of the world. We pray that we will faithfully endure to the end, saved by Your grace. Amen.