What would you do if you knew you would die in less than a week? Is there anywhere you would want to go? What changes would you make in your schedule and priorities? Less TV, pinterest or social media? More meaningful interactions with those who mean the most to you? Would your tone change? Would you give more hugs? Are there any difficult conversations you wouldn’t put off any longer? If there was anything you could do to prolong your life would you do it?
Jesus was in a very unique situation as he was coming into Jerusalem in Matthew 21. He knew he was quickly approaching both the time and place for his agonizing death by crucifixion. Many would run in the other direction. Maybe if he laid low and avoided Jerusalem longer the chief priests and leaders of the law would forget about him and find some other religious teacher to get mad at and crucify. Think of how many more people he could heal and teach if he could stay away from them just another month? Wouldn’t it be worth it?
But, Jesus didn’t hide or try to dodge the bullet. If anything he boldly intensified his work and purpose. Previously he had mostly stuck to the smaller towns and villages rather than camping out in Jerusalem – the holy city of all Jews. Often he had told those he healed to be quiet about it. He was never trying to draw a crowd – but the crowds still had a way of finding him anyways. Now, as he made preparations to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy) he knew the crowds couldn’t be held back any longer. On this day they would shower Jesus with shouts of praise, but in a few days they will cry out for crucifixion.
We don’t know the day or hour or location of our death. We also don’t know how long the tomb will hold us. But, like Jesus – and because of Jesus’ resurrection and God’s promise to send Him to earth again – we can be sure of a resurrection to come. How will that impact the intensity of your ministry today – how you spend your time, what conversations you have, what passion you have for the Father’s work and will?
May we not be like the fig tree that had life but failed to bear fruit for Him.
May we not be like the son who said he would do the Father’s work – but then didn’t.
In today’s passage, we read a familiar story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has been preaching in the countryside, and he receives news that Lazarus is gravely ill and may not make it. Being close friends with the family, Jesus makes plans to go visit them, even though the people in Jerusalem were making threats against Jesus’ life. However, he doesn’t leave right away, and Lazarus passes away before he gets there.
When Jesus arrives, everyone asks him the same question: ‘Why didn’t you get here earlier? Why did you try to hustle so that you could save Lazarus’ life?’ Jesus is deeply moved by the suffering, but the answer to these questions is that Lazaraus’ death was used to glorify God. Even more, Lazarus’ death shows still teaches us a profound truth that we can have comfort in today, 2,000 years later.
While Jesus was walking into the town, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, comes out to meet him. She asks him the questions that I mentioned before, to which Jesus replied one of his 7 I AM statements found in the book of John.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Jesus then goes and raises Lazarus from the dead, doing so so that the people would believe that he truly is the son of God (John 11:41-42).
This story should give us comfort and hope as we face down our great enemy, death. By believing in Christ, we will take part in the resurrection. Not only this, we can live a ‘resurrected life’ now, being “dead to sin and alive in Christ” (Rom. 6:11). Jesus is the only resurrection and life. If we want to truly live life, we have to believe in the doctrinal truths that Martha tells Jesus:
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
What do you believe? Do you believe in the resurrection and the life that comes from Christ?
~ Cayce Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 11.
We’re now in the 3rd year of the Persian king Cyrus’s reign, after he has allowed the exiled in Babylon to go home. But it’s not clear if Daniel is hanging around to work in the Persian court somewhere or if he has gone home too. Maybe, he figures, what’s the use of going home if the restoration of his people is going to take 7 times longer than anyone thought. If I were him, I’d also be struggling to find some hope if angels keep dropping by in my dreams and giving me mostly horrible news about the future.
This is likely weighing heavily on Daniel’s tired heart as he is mourning and doing extended fasting. You don’t normally hear about people today fasting to hear a word from God, but it’s one of those ancient tried and true methods to use when you really mean business and something has to give.
It works well for Daniel here because he receives another vision. He’s by the river and sees an angel that is described with language stolen right from Ezekiel. And the Bible is weird, because it sounds like this angel (Gabriel?) has been in an ongoing battle with a prince (angelic representative?) of Persia. And the angel Michael is there fighting in Gabriel’s place so he could come tell Daniel something very important. If I am understanding this correctly, this means angels engage in extended tag team octagon fighting on behalf of the kingdoms they represent, as if the balance of history depends on it in some way.
What follows in chapter 11 is an insanely detailed prophecy given to Daniel about the Persians and Greeks, leading up to our old friend, Antiochus IV, and his typical shenanigans. It is basically a much more detailed version of chapter 8 (remember the ram, goat, and the horns?), and we have the theme from chapters 2 and 7 about the sequence of kingdoms knitted into it. Not being an expert in history, and not wanting to overload too badly, I’ll keep this very high-level.
I mentioned Alexander yesterday, who is our “warrior king” in 11:3, or the Greeks taking over the Persians. Alexander dies and his kingdom is split up among four generals. We eventually end up with the Ptolemies of the south (Egypt) and Seleucids of the north (Syria/Mesopotamia), who plague each other with failed alliances, invasions, deception, betrayal, assassinations, and the like. By verse 21, Antiochus (of the north) is on the scene, and by verse 30 we see him start his persecution of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, we see his end.
Again, we are interested in patterns more than precise timelines. The north and south had been going back and forth with their conflicts but keeping each other in check. Antiochus comes on the scene and breaks the mold, crosses the line, and does what nobody before him does. And once he upsets the balance and asserts himself as a god, the true God brings an end to him. It’s the arrogant made humble again, like we’ve seen several times before in the book of Daniel.
But what of hope? What’s the point of this endless political drama and transfer of power? The messenger explains that at that point of deep anguish brought in by the king of the north, the people of God will be delivered. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And the wise are said to have some kind of special reward. If we believe in a God of justice and restoration, the end game has to be that God, being the faithful God that he is, will make all things right, even by raising his “sleeping” faithful to life.
Surely the original audience of Daniel would be familiar with the dry bones of Ezekiel coming alive and how it symbolized the return from exile, since the ideas of exile and death in the Jewish mind are interlocked. But technically, when this new revelation is being given to Daniel, the people have already gone home, although their full restoration has yet to be seen. So is Daniel 12 metaphorically about the coming restoration of God’s people, or about an actual bodily resurrection? I think both are in play. This isn’t the New Testament yet, so nobody is really talking about resurrection as we know it. The Old Testament hints at something like resurrection maybe a few times before Daniel. This passage goes further than others in the Old Testament; it’s hard to deny or explain away the element of bodily resurrection. Still, by the time of Jesus, not all the Jews are sold on it. The Pharisees believe in a resurrection, but the Sadducees do not.
A quick word about verses 5-12, which seem to break the flow a little. It prompts us to remember 8:13 when one angel asks the other how long the “transgression that makes desolate” will be. In scope is the last of the 70 weeks described in chapter 9, but now we have another “How long” question: “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” To summarize, it cryptically lays out two periods of 3½ years, before and after the people are essentially banned from worshiping. Interpreters struggle with making much sense of the differing numbers in verses 11-12, and I am happy to join them.
I’ve been suggesting how some of these prophecies have had a fulfillment in historical events moving up into the second century B.C. because I think it fits well, but hopefully I have also left the door open for you to envision other ways these patterns have been fulfilled, and even how they are yet to be fulfilled. Part of the joy of the book of Daniel is that it keeps inviting you to interpret. Sometimes it will hand you the interpretation, and sometimes you’ll have to chew on it. Making sense of the book of Daniel (and the rest of scripture) became an important pastime for God’s people, and it is no wonder why. It can provide us wisdom, encouragement, and hope while surviving in our Babylons, or enduring very tough times that never seem to end.
We are in a strange time in our world where I think all of us are asking every day, “How long is this mess going to keep going? When can things be back to normal?” It will probably take much longer than we had wanted or expected. And whether it is good or bad, we’ll probably never go back to what we thought of as normal. But the wise and faithful can enjoy the hope of a time of restoration and resurrection, in a kingdom that has no end, under the rulership of the true God who has finally set everything right.
Thank you so much for studying Daniel with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 10-12
Tomorrow we will begin the book of Ezra (chapters 1-3) as we continue on our journey through God’s Word using the
God called Jacob and He made the descendants of Jacob his Holy people. These are the ones who call on the name of the Lord. Yet today, there are those in Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Morocco, Malawi, Russia, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, France, America, Canada, Samoa, the Philippines and all over the world who know the name of the same God who called chose Jacob so many years ago. Even though they were his chosen people, God said, “Here I am, here I am” to a nation that was not called by his name (65:1). God has called Christians to the same promise that he called the Israelites. Indeed, He says “I have come to gather all nations and languages; they will come and see My glory…I will establish a sign among them, and I will send survivors from them to the nations…and the islands far away—who have not heard of My fame or seen My glory” (66:19).
Eight hundred years later, God sent a sign by the name of Jesus. Jesus himself performed sign after sign, from healing the blind (John 9) to raising the dead (John 11). The final sign was being raised from the dead himself, but this was different from the sign that he performed by raising Lazarus, for Lazarus returned to the grave. Jesus never returned to the grave; to make sure there could be no confusion, Jesus was taken up into the sky in the presence of his followers (Luke 24). The fact that Jesus was taken up is key here because it signifies his resurrection to something new, just as Isaiah prophesied that the world will be transformed into something new.
The closing words of Isaiah state that just as the new earth will endure, so will we. We will endure from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath. That is, we will continue living indefinitely. But the final verse takes a turn from the uplifting words that precede it; it promises destruction to God’s enemies, those who rebelled against him. It does leave you with a few questions though, what does it mean for their fire to never go out? It might point to an eternal suffering of those rebels as is believed by many Christians. I am not entirely sure, but asking questions that make you examine your own beliefs is important for growth. We must always be humble and accept that these prophecies are complex, and we may never fully understand them until the end has come.
In Psalm 17:3, we see that David wholeheartedly sought God – “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” He goes on to say, in verse 5, “My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.”
Because David wholeheartedly followed God, he could then say with confidence in verse 6, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” Unlike Saul, David’s predecessor, who rejected God (and God rejected Saul), David longed to please God, and knew that God heard and answered him.
With this assurance, David then prayed in verses 8 and 9, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.” David was literally running for his life, but was able to have an assurance that God was with him and would help him.
Finally, in verse 15, David acknowledged his ultimate rescue, “And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.” David is looking forward to the resurrection, recognizing that at the resurrection of the righteous, all sin will be removed, and David will awake, and see God’s face – and will be satisfied.”
Ultimately, this is our longing too. We must live a righteous life today, not only so God will answer our prayers now, but ultimately because only by living for God today, will we be resurrected to eternal life, and see God’s face – and be satisfied. And this all starts with drawing close to God today.
I’ll close with Psalm 63:1-4, also from today’s reading, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name, I will lift up my hands.”
This chapter is rich in content, and many sermons and classes have been built around the Faith of the Centurion, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume, or Jesus’ discussion on John the Baptist. All very good stuff.
But something else stood out to me today in this chapter. Isn’t it interesting how often scripture speaks to us in different ways based on when we read it? That should be a very good reason to be in the word daily.
We have a funeral this coming week at our church for a World War 2 Veteran who lived a full life and passed away peacefully, and yet Bob will still be greatly missed. Last year around this time, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I really miss being able to talk to him. I know many people who are currently suffering from or have recently suffered from cancer. Someone else in our church is still suffering through a migraine headache that started three months ago. Death and suffering stink.
With all of these things in mind, this chapter has been an encouraging reminder for me. In the opening account of the chapter, Jesus fully heals the Centurion’s servant who was near death. Then Jesus raises a widow’s only son to life, after he had recently passed!
Later, in verses 22-23, it reads, “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’”
Wow. Imagine the grief you would be feeling if you just lost a close loved one (some of us don’t have to imagine) and shortly afterward, the loved one is returned to us, fully healthy and alive. Or imagine if you have never had the ability to see, and then suddenly you did!
We are promised that there will be a Kingdom where the dead will have been raised back to life and where all suffering has ceased. That is hard to imagine as well. But here Jesus offers the proof that it is possible. Not only did Jesus raise the dead and fully heal the sick here and at other times, but many dead were also raised upon Jesus’ death, and then Jesus himself was raised to life. Of course only Jesus was raised to eternal life. The rest will have to wait until Christ returns.
Friends, we have access to that wonderful Kingdom that God has promised. What an amazing opportunity and reward that is. It is good to be reminded about that continually, but even more so at certain points in our lives. Do you known anyone else who could use that kind of encouragement? Do you know anyone else who doesn’t share that same hope for the future? If yes, then spread the Good News!
It sounds like a movie or a great novel. I’m not Morpheus encouraging you to take the Red-Pill, or even a Wardrobe beckoning you to take your place upon the throne at Cair Paravel.
We are discussing something much more crucial: eternity.
In Revelation 20, we are witness to two resurrections and therefore, two judgements. While Jesus in Matthew 25 tells us there will only be one judgement, with some sheep and some goats, Revelation expresses the security of the saved by expressing their own resurrection as separate. Instead of being raised and judged all together, all those who fought against the beast and his mark will reign with Christ and live forever, being raised in an earlier better resurrection, free of fear of the second death. Revelation then shows us that there will be those that, no matter what, will stand against God, and will march against the Lamb. God will smite them and Christ will judge them from the great white throne. There are many books opened, but there is one crucial book, the Book of Life. Those whose name is written in the Book will live, those whose name is not written in the book will die. Those whose name is not written in the Book will be like the goats of Matthew 25, who go off to shame and everlasting contempt.
A question we may ask ourselves is “which is the most accurate description of the final judgements? Is it all people into sheep and goats (like Matthew 25) or two separate judgements separated by 1000 years (Revelation 20)?” And that is a good question.
A good one, but the WRONG one.
The question we MUST ask is, “Am I a sheep or a goat? Is my name written in the Book of Life? Will I be raised in the first resurrection?” This is the correct question, because it is also the one we can answer with assurance.
If you have believed in the name of Jesus,
if you have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, (Matthew 25)
if you have refused the mark of the beast, the authority of this world, (Revelation 20)
if you fought against the anti-God system of the world by speaking the message of Christ in love,
THEN you have been promised by God Himself that you will be raised to eternal life.
May you, my brothers and sisters, be among the sheep, raised in the first resurrection, and may you never need to fear the second death.
I like to listen to audio books. Most of the books I read could be considered “self-help” or “Leadership” books. The one that I have just started in the last couple days is called “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins. David is a former Navy seal and an ultra-athlete. The premise of his book is to have a mentally tough and disciplined mind that allows us to push through the worst experience’s life can throw at us. This idea of “Can’t Hurt Me” reminds me of what Paul said in Colossians 1:24-29
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose, also I labor striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
Here we see Paul bringing up a time where he had been persecuted for bringing the Gospel to the Colossians. Where he endured hardship while preaching fully the Gospel to them. He mentions in verse 27 “God willed to make known the riches of the glory” and also mentions “hope of glory”. I believe that this for Paul was meaning no matter what kind of tribulations, trials, or persecution he goes through Jesus also went through this, and God revealed the mystery of resurrection power to the world as well as the Gospel through Christ.
We will have days, often, that are going to be horrible from our perspective. Now I don’t know what David Goggin’s believes personally. However, if we adopt what I think David Goggin’s and Paul would say is a “Can’t Hurt Me” mindset, we can look forward to the resurrection and the kingdom of God.
It’s a beautiful chapter – make sure you give it a read, it won’t take long.
While I read, various people came to mind as Paul was describing his ministry. People I know who have – and are currently – serving faithfully, carrying on the work Paul had given his life to 2,000 years ago.
One of the key repeated themes in this chapter is the task of pointing others to God, rather than to ourselves. It requires humility and relying on God’s strength and mercy. It means realizing that this priceless treasure of the message of God’s glory is housed in our plain, everyday, unglamorous, and sometimes frail bodies. As Paul says: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (vs. 7). It’s not about us – it’s about Him and His greatness. It involves letting God’s light shine through us – so others will see God when we share about His Son. After a conversation with others, do they know more about me – or about my God and my Lord?
And – it’s about the work of being a servant to those you minister to – for Jesus’ sake. Growing up as a pastor’s kid I was privileged enough to see the beauty of servanthood Pastor Ray Hall lived out daily. Numerous weekly Bible Studies at church, at the adult foster care homes or at the breakfast restaurant with the men’s group. Countless counseling sessions in his office, at the jail, or the hospital or even in the garage. Up extra early to drive the man in need of a fresh start to his new job, writing and delivering sermons and SS classes, taking breaks to fix the neighbors’ bikes or paint a welcome home sign for returning snowbirds, teaching the little kids’ VBS class and taking all the late-night phone calls.
Being a servant doesn’t leave a lot of time for piddly pursuits. In fact, it can be downright demanding, and sometimes discouraging. Paul knew. He writes, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…so then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (vs 8, 9 & 12). In order to share the life-giving message with others – it was going to require taking up his cross and dying to his own will – just as Jesus did. It would be hard, but not without help (God’s power at work) or hope. “Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (vs. 14).
Even as Paul was following in Christ’s footsteps, he was encouraging those who would follow in his own footsteps with these words (repeated twice in this short chapter) – “We do not lose heart.” (vs. 1 & 16). God needs people with heart – and lots of it! You don’t have to be a full-time pastor to be taking on the role as a servant for Jesus’s sake. Some of the people I thought of when reading this chapter were not pastors but full-time mothers and dedicated Sunday School teachers or amazing pastors’ wives. Whether you are a student or a mother or a plumber or a truck driver or a teacher – you can also be called to be a servant – for Jesus’ sake.
On the sad flip side, other faces and hearts were brought to mind when Paul wrote about those for whom the gospel was veiled – those who were perishing. Some family. Some friends. Some from years of church and youth work. Indeed, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel.” (vs. 4). Satan is still very much alive and kicking. The battle is real. And real lives are perishing – unbeknownst to those with blinded minds. Pray for veils to be yanked off. Pray for our families to flee Satan. Pray for the light of the gospel to shine through the darkness.
Thank God for the light. Thank God for those who have been a servant to you to show you the light. Pray that through you God’s light will shine. Pray that you do not lose heart. Pray that you will be worthy of the title of servant – for Jesus’ sake.