‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.’
Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others appeared, one standing on this bank of the stream and one on the other. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was upstream, ‘How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?’ The man clothed in linen, who was upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand towards heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives for ever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’ He said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. From the time that the regular burnt-offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.’
Daniel is writing in the midst of terrible suffering. People are running to and fro searching in vain for a word from God, the wicked are acting wickedly and evil is on the increase. Where will all this end?
He is given a vision – a remarkable prediction of resurrection and judgement that is unique in the Old Testament. Now this is not a theological teaching, a dogmatic statement, but a splendid flight of imagination, Biblically based. Daniel envisages human life on earth in the light of eternity. People who were faithful but lost their lives will awake and be vindicated; those who were wicked but seemed to triumph will be exposed to everlasting contempt and shame. The discerning leaders who set people right may have been despised, may even have lost their lives, but would have a special place of honour in the new Jerusalem.
There is only one problem. Daniel is to close up these words, keep them secret and seal his book until the final crisis comes. The time is not yet. In the interim, Daniel’s readers are challenged to be steadfast and faithful and encourage others to join them.
The vision crosses generations. It shapes the way we see Jesus, the wise leader who died a martyr and rose from the dead to strengthen and encourage his followers. It affirms that God’s justice and righteousness will ultimately have the last word – even if this is beyond the limits of our human experience and imagination. In the end, we are to remain faithful to the heavenly vision. And the last words of the book are not of striving but of peace. Go your way, says the man in linen, go your way and rest.
Living God, you are the source of all wisdom. Make me wise to see all things against the background of eternity, and make me brave to face all the changes in my life which such a vision may entail, through the grace of Jesus Christ my saviour, Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston is a retired URC minister and a member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC.