It’s really good to know the future is planned. Especially when you realise that the future is also looking quite painful, and that it might be painful for some time!
In our church we’re working through Daniel, and in the last post I tried to show how in Daniel chapter 8, God prepared his people for their future, so that they could live faithfully in their present and be prepared for the future they had to live through! It was, no doubt, super helpful for them to realise that God had their future all mapped-out, and it’s really good for us to have the same hope!
Today I want to show you how God forewarned his people that their future was going to be both painful and that the painful period would be prolonged.
Now that might not seem to be so helpful, but it’s much better to know the painful truth about what’s ahead than to live in a dreamworld, only to be woken up with a bump when reality strikes! As I mentioned last time, these same truths about the future that God revealed to his people in Daniel’s time, also apply to us as we look to our own future.
So here we go: Two more things God wants you to know about the future:
#2 The future is going to be painful (in a couple of ways)
1. The pain of war and turmoil.
What God predicted for Daniel (with the vision of the Ram and the Goat in Daniel 8:1-14) was effectively a future dominated by the wars of the world-powers in the Greater Middle East. For the Jews in his day, it was the equivalent of our being told that in the next three hundred years there will be another two world-wars!
Israel is the only real highway between Africa and the rest of the world, and since everyone seemed to want to conquer Egypt (or vice versa), Israel was forever being overrun by world-powers passing through, devastating the land of Israel as they did so. Israel would be caught up in the turmoil and devastation of a world in turmoil. They would not be exempt.
In the same way when Christ prophesied the characteristic features the future for New Testament believers, he warned that “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven,” (Luke 21:10-11). It’s critical for us as believers to realise that we are NOT exempt from this kind of pain. For most of us in the West, we’ve lived through a remarkably unusual period of peace in the last 70 years, but according to Jesus, the pain of war and geopolitical upheaval is still written in our future, and while we should pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2) we mustn’t assume we’ll have it otherwise.
2. The pain of domination and defeat.
To understand quite how painful it would be for the Jews to contemplate the future that Daniel’s visions predicted, you really need to get into the mindset of a faithful Jewish believer in that day. In Deuteronomy 28 God had given Israel promises of blessings for obedience (to his covenant with them) and the threat of curses for their disobedience, and they had stubbornly disobeyed and actually experienced all of the curses listed there.
A number of the blessings for obedience, however, were specifically related to their relationship with the surrounding nations. They would be set “high above all the nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1). Deuteronomy 28:13 epitomises these promises of national prominence and dominance, when Israel were told that they will be “the head and not the tail“.
In the same way, many of the curses also focused on them being defeated by and dominated by their enemies (see for example Deuteronomy 28:25, 26, 29, 33, 36). Later however, they are promised not only restoration, but more blessing than they experienced previously, if only they repent with all their heart (Deuteronomy 30:1-6). (That never has happened yet, which is one thing that makes me look for a future ingathering and national repentance and restoration of Israel on an unprecedented scale, see Zechariah 12:10-14; 14:1-21; Micah 7:18-20; Acts 3:19-21 etc.).
We don’t have to imagine the effect of this kind of vision of future gentile domination on a faithful Jew, because Daniel exemplified it for us when he was overcome and lay sick for several days (Daniel 8:27).
Knowing the truth about what to expect, however, is better than living in continual disappointment, and it’s helpful to realise that God was no doubt preparing faithful Jews to be able to focus on what he wanted them to during the coming years of Gentile domination, rather than forever being frustrated thinking that it wasn’t going to plan! God’s plan for them was domination and defeat, for a long time to come, even if they were going to be returned to their own land and rebuild the temple. These are the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
For Christians, likewise, we are promised that our future will be characterised by defeat and domination by the world! This ought not to shock us, but in these days of prosperity preachers promising victory at every turn, many true believers are tragically confused when political and social issues don’t go our way. The New Apostolic Reformation and other manifestations of Dominion Theology have made for an unhelpful expectation among some for Christians that we’re going to gain influence in high places and achieve some kind of political utopia.
The history of Daniel, with all his influence, followed as it was by such a profoundly painful few hundred years in Israel, ought to temper such hopes! Our hopes, like those of Israel, are bound up in the return of the Messiah! We’re longing and praying for His kingdom to come, and for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, but that’s NOT what we see now! Instead, fiery trials are considered “normal” for us, not “something strange” (1 Peter 4:12).
It’s crucial we, as Christians get it straight in our head that it’s NORMAL for our future to look painful! This is what Jesus warned us, that in this world (we) will have tribulation (John 16:33), and it’s how Paul “encouraged” and “strengthened” the earliest disciples, “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). If we get our thinking about this straight, we can be much better placed to live like the New Testament believers who “endured a hard struggle with sufferings,” and even “joyfully accepted the confiscation of (their) property” (Hebrews 10:33-34).
Discussion Questions for #2
- Why did God give the Jews in Daniel’s time warning that the next few hundred years would be so painful?
- What was so very painful about the Jews being dominated by pagan kingdoms? (See especially Deuteronomy 28:13 and discuss)
- How is it helpful for us also to know that in this life (in the immediate future before the Lord comes) it’s going to be painful and feel like defeat?
- Where do prosperity preachers go wrong in terms of their eschatology?
- What kind of impact does it have on people’s lives/faith when they are expecting to have victory in earthly terms?
- Which NT scriptures would you take someone to in order to help them understand that we are destined for difficulty and even apparent defeat in this age?
#3 The (painful) future is prolonged
Daniel and his fellow faithful believers were given the revelation that this period of turmoil and gentile domination was going to last a long time. They didn’t get the specifics about timing in chapter 8, but they did get enough information to give Daniel the picture that any change of the status quo was a LONG way off.
Gabriel told Daniel about the Little Horn, and a particularly painful period of persecution… but that wasn’t going to be until “the latter end of their kingdom” (Daniel 8:23) which was speaking about 4 horned Greek empire that followed the single prominent horned version (i.e. Greece under Alexander the Great). The very fact that there would be a “latter end” to their kingdom, meant that the period of gentile domination was going to be a very long one.
There is something particularly hard about a trial (like oppression by pagan powers) that is prolonged! When the problem persists, it presents some unique tests for our faith and also some peculiar temptations.
The question that needs to be answered is why would God warn his people that the trial would be prolonged? What is the benefit to knowing in advance that it will not end anytime soon?
It may well be because the faithful among the people of Israel needed to know that they were not to expect the kingdom of God to come any time soon. That may seem strange to us, but strong Messianic expectation and a willingness to follow false-messiahs go hand in hand, and so knowledge of what they were to expect must have been helpful for the faithful Jews during the next 386 years covered by this vision.
Jesus also prepared his disciples (and us) for the reality that he was going away and that the Kingdom of God would not appear immediately. In Luke 19:11 he began to tell them the parable of the ten minas, “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately,” and the parable opens with the “nobleman (who) went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return,” (Luke 19:12).
A couple of months later when Jesus had risen from the dead and spent 40 days teaching his disciples about the kingdom, just before he actually did go away, like the nobleman in the parable, his disciples were still asking him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus reply was that it was not for them to know the times or season which the Father has fixed by his own authority.
The reality for us as believers is that we are not to expect the blessings associated with the return of Christ (to rule and reign) ahead of that time! There is a time, and there is a season, that God has fixed by his own authority, but we are not privy to those details. In the meantime, we need to know what we are to expect, so that we don’t get discouraged.
That seems to be one of the main dangers for us as believers when trials continue, and we have to live through prolonged difficulties. It’s so easy for us to begin to think, “It just shouldn’t be like this!” The reality however is that (just as God prepared the Jews in Daniel’s day) this is exactly what God planned, and yes, it’s painful, and yes it’s prolonged, but it’s OK if that’s what God has chosen for us, right?
Jesus gave teaching about a prolonged painful future in Luke 21, and described the times of the gentiles during which Jerusalem would be trampled under foot, and great suffering would prevail. Immediately he applied all this teaching by saying, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life,” (Luke 21:34).
That seems to be a huge danger for us, that in the light of prolonged suffering and difficulty, we can become discouraged, and turn back to comforting ourselves in worldly ways. The alternative is to walk by faith! In Hebrews 11, the heroes of the faith endured terrible suffering, and the writer applies it all in chapter 12 by saying, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). The danger for us in expecting the blessings of the kingdom now, seems to be that we will lose patience, and “grow weary or fainthearted.” The answer of course, is to consider Jesus, and how he endured (Hebrews 12:3) but also—it helps to know it’s not all going wrong—but that this is exactly what we’re to expect.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 21:34.
Discussion Questions for #3
- What is particularly hard about prolonged trials? (Why are they more difficult to deal with?)
- What particular temptations do we face when we face prolonged difficulties?
- What is helpful about knowing that the future for believers is supposed to be painful, and that it’s normal for our difficult circumstances to last a long time?
- How would you counsel someone who is sinking under the pressure of a prolonged painful situation?
- What scriptural encouragements are there that we can apply to encourage ourselves in these circumstances?