Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Trials of Life

The end of Daniel, Chapters 11 & 12, is a huge prophecy that telescopes three-fold from close future events culminating in Antiochus Epiphanes, to the more distant destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, to the far-reaching end of everything.  In marveling at the detailed descriptions of the future, we may not, at first, find anything applicable to us today, but when we get to verse 26, we get this interesting passage:

“At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before. For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. (Daniel 11:26-35)

This is right before the prophecy switches to being completely about the end-times.  Antiochus IV tries to defeat Egypt and fails.  Jerusalem hears a rumor that the king has been killed, and they take over their city again, restoring a true priest in the temple.  That's when Antiochus really gets mad!  He returns, sacks Jerusalem, and slaughters thousands.  This event in history, although it doesn't seem important, is important for God to get across to Daniel.  I believe it is because the attack on Jerusalem most closely resembles not only the destruction of the temple in AD70, but the last days before Christ's second coming.

That's all I want to say about the prophecy itself, but there are parts of this passage that we can really use to build up our faith:

1) We are in a holy covenant with God.  The world hates and attacks this covenant.

2) Those within the church who forsake the covenant (the false church) will be seduced and flattered by the world. We see this in all the worldly teaching that permeates the church today.

3) The true church, the ones who know God, stand firm and take action.

4) The wise among the faithful will preach the gospel and convert many.

5) The true church will have times of stumbling.

6) The false church will attempt to take over the true church through seduction and flattery.

7) Even the wise among the faithful will stumble, but God intends this.

This last point is where I want to focus.  Verse 35 states, "and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time." God has a purpose in his children stumbling: to refine and purify them.  Who are these people in the white robes and from where have the come?  Revelation 7:14 tells us, "these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb." These are people who have endured great trials by putting their faith in Jesus Christ.  One of the biggest, most universal, deceits in the modern church today is the phrase, "come to Jesus; he will make your life better."  This makes sense in an eternal destiny way.  Heaven is definitely a better life.  But the false teaching lies in having your "best life now." Romans 8:28 reads, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."  Notice:

1) This only applies to the elect (those who love God; those who are called).

2) This isn't saying "good things will happen" but "for good," as in, "for the good of the person."  Remember, things that are good for us aren't necessarily things we like or want.

3) The purpose mentioned is God's, not our own.  God's purpose for us may be martyrdom.  We know from the Daniel passage that God allows his children to stumble in order to refine and purify them--until the time of the end.  In other words, the trials and tribulations do not let up in this life.  "Come to Jesus and your life will get better" does not work.  It's unbiblical.  Now, if you strengthen your faith in Christ in the midst of the tribulations, you will find great joy in the midst of the tribulations, but the trials and persecutions will not stop.  James 1:2-4:

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  This is sanctification.  God does not deliver you from the trials so that you can do something really awesome with your earthly life.  Instead we find joy in the troubles that aren't going to go away.  Such joy is only found through faith in Christ.  When an unbeliever is experiencing trials, it is because God's judgment is coming early.  The last thing we want to do is tell those people that if they come to Christ, their trials will go away.  When they "try Jesus" and the trials don't fade, they will never truly come to Christ. This is why we see such a high congregational turnover in the mega-churches.  What we do instead is preach Christ and him crucified, from passages such as Daniel 11:26-35 or James 1:2-4, let the gospel have its effect, and if that person is elect, his or her heart will change, and while the trials themselves won't go away, the new convert will understand the joy that only Christ can provide in the midst of those trials.

This is a crucial distinction.  Jesus did not purchase a "better life now" for us with his blood.  He purchased US with his blood.  We are his possession now, and he will change our hearts.  Hear what our Lord says in John 17: "“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours."  Jesus purchased us with his blood, not a fuller life that we need the courage to "step into."  We will not find joy in trials if we are searching for that full life Jesus bought for us.  He bought us, ourselves.  We seek Christ's righteousness in his word, we see him glorified, we put our complete faith in him, and we then discover joy in the trials, even when they don't go away.