Some of you may know this and others may not. When I was two years old I had a four-year old sister who died from Leukemia. Since I was two I did not know her very well, therefore, I only know by stories shared with me and looking at pictures. But the most vivid memory I have is seeing the pain and torment it put my parents and older sister through. Even at the young age of five something in my soul said, “This is not right. Things should not be like this.” I am sure many of us could share stories throughout our childhood, or even our adulthood. where we have moments like this in our soul.
Suffering is real and we must not forget the first readers of Daniel were really suffering. Some of them had probably seen children die, parents die, relatives die, and friends die. They saw their way of life decimated—God’s holy city is lying in ruins. Daniel himself had suffered under tyrannical leaders. As pastor Stephen so winsomely said last week he had an employer who wanted to murder him. He had peers who wanted to murder him to get his job. Daniel on a personal level has had a rough go of it. In chapter 9 Daniel is wondering when this suffering will end. He knows from the prophet Jeremiah that God promised He would one day end this suffering. Therefore, Daniel is asking, “God is it time for our suffering to end?” How many of us are asking this? Do we believe the end to our suffering is the return of Christ? Do we just want relief for ourselves?
In our text today we will finally see God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9. We will not cover all of Daniel 9.24-27 this week, but will spend two weeks examining this text because there is so much here. It is one of the most debated passages in the entire OT and maybe the entire Bible. Therefore, the elders thought it would be wise to deviate from the preaching schedule and spend two weeks wrestling with this text.
Theme: God desires faith-fueled obedience in the midst of hard times.
1. Introductory Remarks.
Many times when it comes to the details of developing a healthy eschatology (which is a theology of the end times) many of us say, “Oh, leave that to scholars.” But the truth is we all have a responsibility to seek to understand eschatology because it is discussed in the Word of God. As we consider Daniel 9.24-27 the one thing we can rejoice in is all the scholars agree this is one of the most difficult passages to understand in the Bible. But everything else about this passage is where they disagree. So, if you listen to someone who says they have figured the end times out, then you should stop listening to them and RUN! Now I don’t mean we can’t understand anything about these verses, but there are some passages of Scripture that we are not meant to fully understand. If you have a problem with that idea might I remind us all of this:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.—Deuteronomy 29.29
We can understand what God reveals to us, but there are things He does not want us to know and we need to be ok with that.
With the ever-increasing information age we need to guard this belief. There are things as a parent and your pastor I have learned that is unhelpful for people to know. Many of us think we can handle every detail of information, but the truth is with the rise of the internet age we have seen many people cannot process the amount of information they are receiving. Some people have lost the ability to wrestle with ideas, thoughts, struggles, pain and suffering. This has brought a shallowness or triteness to our beliefs. My hope and prayer for us here at Refuge is we will be a people who do not fear the struggle but embrace it. Let’s not say, “Oh, leave it to the scholars.” I pray we will wrestle with God’s Word—we will struggle through our understanding. And in the end we will know we may not get the understanding we hope for, but let’s enjoy the struggle.
2. Hard Times Are Coming—Daniel 9.24.
God Cares For His Family
As we move into Daniel 9.24 let’s not forget what’s happened in Daniel 9.20-23. The angel Gabriel has come to Daniel to help him understand Jeremiah 25. Gabriel tells Daniel a decree went out to help him understand Jeremiah 25 because he is “greatly loved.” Why is this important to our understanding of Daniel 9.24-27? Well, this shows us God’s desire in Daniel 9 was to help Daniel understand because He loves him. Daniel was one of His dear children. Daniel was born into the people of God, Israel. We are told by Jesus in John 3.3 that if we want to be one of God’s people we must be born again. Faith in the finished work of Christ must be our entrance into the family of God. It is through the finished work of Christ that we shown we are greatly loved. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the way God helps us understand our suffering.
God Does Not Owe Us His Mercy
As we continue, the word that God sent to Daniel came after his “pleas for mercy.” But God did not have to do this. Whenever someone asks for mercy they do not receive it because they are owed it. Extending mercy to someone is a result of love and compassion. In the end I believe what we will see is God revealed to Daniel in His compassionate mercy by helping him better understand Jeremiah 25. Although the exile that Daniel and his family went through is coming to an end that does not mean a full restoration of all things is coming. This glorious news for us because it means this message was not just for Daniel and the family members of his age, but also the family members in ages to come. For God to reveal this truth to Daniel was merciful. And the fact that God preserved this message for us today means God is still continuing to extend His mercy to us today.
Understanding the Seventy Weeks
Daniel 9.24 opens with, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city…” What are these seventy weeks? I believe these “seventy weeks” are a literary device. I don’t believe God is telling Daniel that everything in Daniel 9.24-27 will happen in seventy weeks. We must not forget that Daniel is asking God about the meaning of the prophecy of 70 years in Jeremiah 25 (Dan 9.2). Now must not forget a good Bible reader like Daniel would be familiar with texts like Leviticus 25.8-17. Let me quote the first verse:
You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.—Leviticus 26.8
What Moses was talking about here is the year of Jubilee, which was supposed to come every 50 years. But we can see how the “seven weeks” language is used to describe units of years. And since we are in symbolic apocalyptic literature the author is using biblical word play to help us understand an idea and not necessarily a historical detail.
The Goal of the Seventy Weeks
Why are these seventy weeks important? Well, they important because what Gabriel states are the goals: “finish the transgression,” “put an end to sin,” “atone for iniquity,” “bring in everlasting righteousness,” “seal both vision and prophet,” and “anoint a most holy place.” What does all that mean, right? There certainly seems to be an ultimate tone as we read this. The phrases “an end to sin” and “an everlasting righteousness” seems to give us this implication. Even the phrase “seal both the vision and prophet” indicates this because it seems to mean no further vision or prophecy is needed.
Some of these goals do not seem like they would happen until Jesus will come. Are they accomplished the first time Jesus comes or when He comes the second time? Friends, that is a long ongoing debate that I will let you look into and decide. But I think what we can immediately is God is warning Daniel, His family, and us that hard times are coming. God is affirming to Daniel the seventy years of Jeremiah 25 are coming to an end, but that does not mean this is an end of sin or God’s everlasting righteous kingdom will be arriving any time soon. God is casting a new vision for Daniel and his family. So as we continue to see the pain and suffering in our lives, and the world around us, we know God has not yet put an end to sin and brought in His righteous everlasting kingdom. Yet we also know that God has promised, RIGHT HERE, that He will put in end to sin, finish the transgression, and establish His righteous everlasting kingdom. This is vitally important to healthy Christian living. If we do not believe there is a final end to all evil, suffering and sin then we will live like this world is all we have. We will try to escape our suffering, because who wants to suffer when it means nothing—when it worthless—when there is no end in sight. Our eschatology is extremely important to our theology of suffering. Faithful obedience is what God is encouraging us with right here. We are meant to go back to Daniel’s life in chapters 1-6 and see what that looks like. Then are meant to push forward and see how Jesus is a greater Daniel, because He was obedient to the point of the death, even death on a cross (Phil 2.8). And why did Jesus go to the Cross? To glorify His Father through righteous sacrificial obedience and bring us back into a right relationship with God, each other, and all of creation. As we examine the significance of our eschatology and theology of suffering consider what Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.—Matthew 13.20-21
Be warned dear friend. We have all seen this before. Many have adopted a diet, workout regiment, or some kind of belief system for our own personal flourishing. Some of us have seen the value of that flourishing and try to convince others as well. We give our lives to these goals. But the true test of any conviction is when we face opposition to our convictions. What do they do then? We either work through it or quit. It is fight or flight. What are giving our lives? There are so many things we can stand for in our lives. There is a cause around every corner. But there is only One cause that will finish the transgression, put an end to sin, atone for iniquity, and usher in God’s righteous everlasting kingdom. Friends, that is the cause of the Gospel. May we all pick up the banner of Jesus Christ and wave that higher than any other.