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Prophecy and predictions

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1. Predictions and prophecy

Ever wondered what the future might hold? Ever tried to make a prediction? Can be a tricky business sometimes. Here are some predictions from the past – from people who were trusted individuals:

            Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, in 1943 said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

            Popular Mechanics magazine in 1949 made this prediction: "Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons."

            There was an inventor by the name of Lee DeForest. He claimed that "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility."

            And the Decca Recording Co. back in 1962 said: "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." They’d just heard a few lads from Liverpool, whose band was called the Beatles. 44 years later their music is still in the charts.

            Many human predictions seem to fail. But what of predictions from God? Would you expect them to be achieved or to fail? What does God have to say about the future? We’re going to find out over the next two weeks as we look at Daniel ch 12 next week, and chs 10-11 tonight.

2. Daniel’s prophecy – Daniel 10/11

The vision of Daniel which he records in chs 10-12 of his book is from around536BC – we know that from ch 10:1. That puts it some 15 years after the vision of ch 8 which we looked at a few weeks ago.

What has changed in those 15 years for the people of God? A lot.

The unbelievable has happened and the great empire of Babylon has been toppled by the Medo-Persian Empire. A new king - King Cyrus - is on the throne. 2 years earlier, in his very first year, Cyrus has allowed the Jews to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem. You can read about it in Ezra. Many Jews had done so. But others remained in Babylon. One of them was Daniel.

It would have been an amazing time for the Jews, with the thought of rebuilding the temple, and again being in the Promised Land.

But what will happen to the Jews? And to Jerusalem? Is this the start of something grand? What is the future of Jerusalem and of God’s people? What is God doing?

            The answers that are given to Daniel in this vision are somewhat shocking.

I want to start by looking briefly at chapter 11, and give you a thumbnail sketch of what I think these verses are talking about. There are too many verses here to cover on a Sunday night – but with this overview you can then go home and work through them in more detail. Then we’ll get back to ch 10, and then work out what we do with all of this.

            So Daniel 11. – brief summary of main events on back of outline            P1

11:1-2 – talk very quickly about the Persian Empire. A small number of kings will come into that Empire, until a great king from Greece comes. We’re not sure why only 3 or 4 are mentioned, when historically there were 9 kings of the Persian Empire. It may be to keep it deliberately vague, or some suggest it as a Hebrew way of saying a limited and finite number, so 3 then a 4th. Either way 200 years of Persian rule are treated as almost irrelevant.

            And so v3 talks about the appearance of the Greek king Alexander the Great. He reigned from 336-323BC. A great king. Yet here he rates 1 verse.

            Then v4 talks of his empire being broken up after his death, and divided into 4.  P2

The focus now shifts to the 2 of these 4 areas which will involve the Jews in Jerusalem.  P3

 In the south there is Egypt, under the control of the Ptolemies, whilst in the north is Syria, controlled by the Seleucids. And so vv5-20 talk about wars between these 2 ruling groups. So we read the king of the north does this, the king of the south does that, they make allegiances, they arrange marriages, it’s the political picture and in the middle is Palestine. And the people there will have a difficult time.

            And up until about 200BC, Palestine was under the control of the king of the south, that is Egypt. Then around that time the Selecuids regained control over it in the Battle of Panium.

As we come to v21 so the focus narrows once more to a successor. A ‘contemptible person’ according to v21. This I take as Antiochus IV, the ruler of the Seleucid empire from 175-163BC.      P4

            We’ve read about Antiochus already in Daniel – in chapter 8 a few weeks ago. Why focus on him? Because of the intense suffering he will cause to God’s people during his reign.

            So again briefly ….

                        11:22-24 - successful commencement of his reign

                        11:25-26 – invasion of Egypt in 170BC

                        11:27-28 – clash with Jews over religious practices

                        11:29-30 – invaded Egypt a second time but compelled by Romans, the ships of the western coastland in v30, to withdraw

                        11:31-35- Antiochus wasn’t happy about this, and takes out his wrath on Jerusalem. So v30 – he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. That is the Jews, especially those in the city of God – Jerusalem.

            Verses 31-35 talk about what will happen in the city in those days. Some will resist him – and indeed that happened with the Maccabean revolt. They were joined by the wise -v33 – the Hasidim, but many of them were killed – v33 again – fall by the sword, be burned or captured or plundered. They will get some help from others, but ultimately the end of Antiochus will come, because it has been so ordained and appointed by God. In 164BC the Maccabees forced him out of Jerusalem and the temple was rededicated to the Lord.

            The reign of Antiochus was indeed an awful time if you were on the wrong end of his wrath.

Let me give you a potted overview of his reign, and some details of some incidents which show what sort of a man he was.

            Antiochus

His reign started when he seized the throne to which his nephew was heir. His power grew as he made allegiances, often using bribery and flattery. But coming from the break-up of the Greek Empire he was firmly committed to spreading the Greek culture and way of life. And so he was not very happy with the Jews for maintaining their ways and culture, and vigorously sought to change them.

            One of his first acts in 175BC was to depose the Jewish high Priest, Onias III, who was pro-Egypt, and eventually had him assassinated 4 years later. Onias may be v22’s ‘prince of the covenant’.

            In his hunger for power Antiochus made a pre-emptive attack on Egypt in 170-169BC. He conquered all but Alexandria. And he allowed Ptolemy Euergetes to remain as king. But Alexandria chose a different king. So in the next year 168/67BC Antiochus invaded again. Again he conquered all but Alexandria, but by this time Egypt was a protectorate of Rome. And so the Roman governor ordered him to withdraw. Reluctantly he did. But he’s not happy, and so vents his anger on Jerusalem.

            So in 167BC – enters temple and desecrated it; setting up another altar on top of altar of burnt offering, an altar to the pagan god Zeus, to which he sacrificed a pig.

Stop daily sacrifice in temple, and bans many religious rituals

Persecution, imprisonment and death to faithful Jews

Destroyed copies of the Torah, banned the reading of it, banned circumcision and offering sacrifices

            We can read over those details and not really get a feel for what it was like. So here are a few stories I’ve gathered–

            - One time he sent Apollonius, one of his generals, at the head of an army of 22,000 men to Jerusalem. He pretended they had come in peace, but he ordered his soldiers to parade fully armed on the Sabbath day and then kill everyone who came out to watch them

            - on another occasion two women circumcised their children, disobeying Antiochius’ laws. His soldiers killed the children, hung them around their mother’s necks, paraded them around the city and then threw the mothers and the dead children over the city wall.

            - later on seven brothers were arrested with their mother. The king tried to force them to  taste pig’s flesh by torturing them with whips. When they refused he got so angry he brutally tortured them to death, one by one.

            A nice guy Antiochus.               P off

            But the end of the persecution, and the end of Antiochus come at the appointed time – v35.

            Which is fine if you live after him, but hard if you lived during his reign.

            Against that sort of background many Jews would have asked – how much longer? Why does God allow this? Where indeed is God when such things happen? When will it all end?

            Daniel’s vision speaks powerfully. God is not distant or unmoved or uninvolved. Quite the opposite. God is active in human history and his kingdom will come. Guaranteed.

            How do we know that? We go back to ch 10 – and then next week forward to ch 12 for a wrap-up. Ch 10 tells us how this revelation comes to Daniel.

            It is a revelation which comes to Daniel in a vision, v1, and its message is true. It concerns a great war, meaning the tribulation of God’s people, fresh from 70- years in exile, is not yet ended. It sends Daniel into mourning. And he mourns for 3 weeks before the vision is explained to him. Strange. Previously the explanation came quickly. Not this time.

            But v4 – on the 24th day of the month he sees someone. And as you read it it almost sounds like a vision of God himself, such as Ezekiel had. Not dissimilar in some ways from what happened to the apostle Paul on the Damascus Rd. Ye this person was sent to him – v11-  so presumably is not God. But God has heard Daniel’s prayers, since that very first day. What a great encouragement to pray.

            So why the 3 week wait? Things have been happening in heaven which have delayed this messenger. The prince of Persia, I take it as a spiritual being representing Persia in the heavenly realms, has resisted this messenger for 21 days, until Michael came to help.

            It’s strange to our ears isn’t it. But Daniel gives us a tantalizing insight into what happens in heaven, and how it represents and affects what is happening here on earth. Human battles are spiritual battles as spiritual forces seek to overthrow and strike against God himself. God is for his people, and has his angels who fight for his people – esp Michael and Gabriel; yet there are other spiritual beings who battle against them, chief of whom of course is Satan. As an aside as Christians we know the power of these spiritual forces and of Satan was broken and defeated by Jesus in his death on the cross. He is now our representative in heaven, and so our future is assured.

            But the picture is that heavenly realities lie behind, and so parallel, human conflicts. Spiritual powers lie over nation states. It’s a glimpse and we need to beware of those who try to build a whole theology of spiritual powers and demons out of these few verses. But we can say that if that is true then we need to use spiritual weapons – prayer, and leave it then up to God. His people are not left by themselves in this conflict.

            But now he has come, and Daniel is strengthened to talk and to receive the explanation. Which concerns –v14- what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.’ And all of this, he goes on to say in v21 is from the Book of Truth. The future purposes of God in his world. Rev 5 takes up the same idea in the idea of a scroll containing the details of the future of the world. And in that book Daniel is to know that God is for his people, and that God is ultimately in control of all human history and will triumph.

           

Not just Antiochus.

Back to ch 11:36-45.

Who is on view in these verses? Some  details seem to possibly tie to Antiochus’ reign, yet some don’t. That’s deliberate, as the prophecy starts looking forward, anticipating the next Empire, Rome, and those which would come after it.

            Antiochus is a type – a type of all those human rulers who seek to overthrow God. All those rulers from the time of Antiochus onwards. Prophecy does that sometimes. It’s like a telescope – more distant future events seem to merge in with nearer ones, so you get this strange mix of history and eschatology.

            Which means in simple terms that God’s word is not just for the second century BC – it is for all time.

            And ultimately Daniel sees forward to the end of time. Like the reading from Revelation. To the escalation of evil; to a great battle and to God’s final intervention and deliverance and vindication.

            The good news of Daniel is that God is in control. Not just during the time, but before and after. The vision is given so God’s people in all ages can have that unshakeable assurance that no matter how bad things seem here on earth, and no matter how bad they are, God is so in control that he can disclose the future sequence of events. I think the reason God gives so many details here is to remind his people that he is in control. God is in charge of the details! That takes some doing doesn’t it.

            So I could predict that Souths will win another premiership – that may be true, and you may be amazed if it did come true. But imagine if I say to you they will win the grand final next year against the Bulldogs by 21 points to 13. How would you then feel if it came true? Great comfort if you were a Souths supporter. God gives us details here to show he is in total control, details which he has inscribed in the book of truth, details designed to give us great comfort.

            For we too live in a world where evil is manifest. People and powers seek to set themselves up against God and overthrow his purposes and destroy his people. Christians can expect persecution, opposition and suffering. We live in a world where we think Christianity is suffering, where Islam is on the rise and is unstoppable. Where we worry about the future of God’s people in many places.

            But…. The Bible is clear, that God is in control. His purposes are often achieved through that same evil and suffering and persecution. God sometimes allows, not causes but allows, his people to suffer, to achieve his greater purposes. Think about Jesus himself – it is at the cross that the evil powers are defeated, and salvation is achieved. Life comes through death. The blood of the martyrs is the fertilizer of the church. Think of the church in China, Africa.

            In 6th Century BC Babylon it seemed Babylon was in control – they weren’t.

            Then it seemed Persia was in control – they weren’t

            In 2nd Century BC Palestine it looked like Antiochus was in control, but he wasn’t.

            In 1st Century Israel it seemed like Rome was in control, but it wasn’t.

            To us in the 21st Century Ad it may seem like America is in control or Islam is in control, or – but they’re not. We may think it looks like Satan is in control – but he’s not.

            God is in control. We can have joy and optimism in our struggles. And we can know that our actions are meaningful for there is another end to come – the final end. Some parts of Daniel’s visions as we’ve seen are left hanging, waiting for this end. As we look back with the benefit of hindsight we can fill in some more of the details – and see where it is going.

            It is heading for the consummation of God’s kingdom under his king – the Lord Jesus Christ. This future is guaranteed by God. It is written in his book of truth. And if this is so it should shape who we are and how we live. The call is to persevere. Nothing in this life can compare to the eternal life which awaits the true people of God. So keep going, keep believing, keep living faith in Jesus.

            Yes it will be tough. It will take courage. But it ends in glory. Glory for all those who belong to Jesus the king. The God who controls all things guarantees it.

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