The Time of the End | Daniel 12:4-13

But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.

Then I, Daniel, looked, and behold, two others stood, one on this bank of the stream and one on that bank of the stream. And someone said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, 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 finished. I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

Daniel 12:4-13 ESV

We come now to the close of the final vision that began in chapter 10, of the apocalyptic half of the book, and of the book itself. In this text, Daniel receives his final words from the heavenly messengers. Like the rest of the book, these verses do not answer many of the questions that we may have concerning what the future holds for us and when the end of the world will come. However, as we have seen throughout this series, such things are in God’s hands, not ours. Instead, we are called, as Daniel was, to be faithful with whatever time and events that the LORD gives to us.

KNOWLEDGE SHALL INCREASE // VERSE 4

After telling Daniel the lengthy prophecy of battles between the kings of the north and of the south, the heavenly figure told Daniel to shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end (v. 4). This sealing was to be a sign that God’s Word would surely come to pass, even though it would not do so right away, and it was also to guard them for the future generations of God’s people. Indeed, our ability to read the book of Daniel and the rest of Scripture today is only because our brothers and sisters throughout history have zealously defended God’s Word.

Yet while God’s Word will be preserved for God’s people, Daniel is also told that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase. This is almost certainly a reference to the earlier prophet Amos who warned:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
            “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
            but of hearing the words of the LORD.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
            and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD,
            but they shall not find it.

Amos 8:11-12

This prediction sees people running to and fro, desperate to hear from God and yet finding only silence. God’s people had long neglected and rejected His words and His prophets; therefore, He would give them over to what they desired all along.

Now Daniel is being given a similar warning. As the years pass by, humanity’s collective knowledge would increase, yet many will fail to hear the only knowledge that saves: God’s Word. Although this has been true of every passing generation, our own day is quite radical because the modern world is, in many ways, utterly unlike any previous age, and this is primarily due to advances in technology. What person only two hundred years ago could have imagined everything that we use without hesitation: airplanes, refrigerators, air conditioning, automobiles, smartphones, television, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, and the list could keep going. Our collective knowledge has expanded at an astonishing rate, and as a result of these inventions, most of us live far more comfortably than the wealthiest of ancient kings and queens.

Yet for all of these advancements, billions are still without the Word of God. Many have never had the gospel proclaimed to them at all, while others are like the Israelites of Amos’ day, rejecting the good news in order to follow after the pattern of the world. All run to and fro looking for life, joy, and peace, yet the gate to life is narrow, its path is difficult, and “those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). While this is a hard truth, we should also remember that Jesus said: “everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:8).

Why then are there few who find the narrow gate? “No one seeks for God” (Romans 3:11). The heartbreaking reality is that while many love knowledge, few love truth. Truth, of course, should be the goal of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge should really be a pursuit after truth. The problem, however, is that Jesus claimed to be the truth (John 14:6) and that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), which places us under His authority. Beginning in the garden, we have continuously proved ourselves to be experts in rebelling against God’s authority over us. Thus, mankind collective continues to accumulate knowledge while rejecting the One who is altogether true. May we, instead, be the wise who hold fast to God’s Word, storing and sealing it within our hearts, and who labor to “make many understand” as well (11:33).

HOW LONG, O LORD // VERSES 5-7

We can divide the remaining verses by the two questions asked in verses 6 and 8.

In verse 5, Daniel beheld two other angels standing upon each bank of the Tigris, and then in verse 6, someone asks the heavenly figure the question that was likely most pressing in Daniel’s own mind: How long shall it be till the end of these wonders? With so much suffering being predicted for Daniel’s people, this would have been a natural question for him to ask if the angel had not said it first. Indeed, just as the angel asks this question before Daniel could, so too does God anticipate it coming from our lips in the midst of suffering as well. As all of this book has taught us, the LORD often sends His people through fires and sorrows in order to discipline and refine them, but even while we understand this general principle, we often do not understand each particular act, especially in the moment of the trial. After all, we do not have God’s eternal and all-knowing perspective. Therefore, being sympathetic to our weakness, He has given us words to ask Him difficult questions before we think to ask them. Most often, these come in the form of laments, which comprise roughly one-third of the Psalms and the entirety of a book called Lamentations. These God-breathed prayers are the LORD Himself teaching us how to cry out to Him. Psalm 13 is a perfect example:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Notice how David begins with a series of four questions for the LORD, each beginning with how long, and the middle he cries for God to answer His pleas. Yet in the final third of the psalm, he confesses his trust in and resolve to praise the LORD. Portions of Scripture like this are tremendous grace from our loving Father, who knows that our emotions are not everything, but neither are they nothing. Knowing that we cannot see the workings of His providence from His perspective, He gives us the words to express our frustrations with Him and our circumstances as we are passing through them. He equips His people for tribulation that He brings upon them.

The messenger responded by lifting both hands to the LORD as a sign of his words’ reliability, and he then declared that it would be for a time, times, and half a time and that all would be fulfilled whenever the holy people’s power is shattered. His reference to the time, times, and half a time goes back to the first prediction of the little horn in 7:25, and as we noted then, it denotes the limited time during which God allows His people to endure the reign of history’s various antichrists. Both chapters 8 and 11 displayed Antiochus IV as one such particular little horn who was soon to come and would triumph over God’s people for roughly three and a half years. In verse 11, this time of desolation is referenced again but as 1290 days. Yet perhaps the most curious statement is that all these things would be finished whenever the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end (v. 7). God was going to let His people be broken before He intervened to save them.

As we have said, the predictions made in these chapters about the suffering of the Jews under Antiochus IV provide us with timeless principles, since until the end of all things comes more antichrists will continue to arise and suffering will come to God’s people. And as we see here, those days will, thankfully, be limited. An endless sorrow, after all, is the greatest sorrow, yet God’s people will not endure such things.

Furthermore, this truth applies to both individual and corporate trials. Whatever hardships that we face, we can approach them knowing that they will not last forever. They will come to an end, and in the light of eternity, we will see that they ended sooner rather than later.

GO YOUR WAY // VERSE 8-13

After having the how long question answered, Daniel admitted that he did not understand, so he asked another question: O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things? Of course, the final verses of the vision (12:1-3) revealed to him the outcome. Michael would rise up to deliver God’s people, and ultimately on the last day, the wise would resurrect to everlasting life while the wicked would resurrect to everlasting contempt. The faithful will receive their rest and reward, while the persecutors and the traitors will face the Righteous One.

But if that is the outcome, why is Daniel asking to know more? The glimpse behind the curtain that apocalyptic literature gives us is intriguing but also perplexing because, like Daniel, we almost always want a greater revelation than what was given. This can be disappointing since many are conditioned today to think that a study of Daniel would give us more details on the end times (as long as we can make the right timelines and charts to map it all out). Such details, however, have not been given. Indeed, it can feel like these visions in chapters 7-12 raise more questions than they provide answers.

What are we then to do? The response to Daniel is response to our inquisitiveness as well:

Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.

Notice that twice Daniel was told to go along his way, which should remind us of what the prophet previously did whenever he received a frightening and perplexing vision: “Then I rose and went about the king’s business” (8:27). The heavenly figure is telling him to go about his daily business again. This should be our proper response to God’s revelation, particularly of how all things will come to an end. We should devote ourselves to being faithful with the time that is given to us, storing up the words of what is still yet to come in our hearts.

1 Peter 4:7 gives us the same command only in different words: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” No thought should be as sobering as thinking upon the return of Christ (which we now know from the New Testament will bring about the resurrection of the dead). After all, even if Christ does not return within the next 100 years, we will all be standing before Him nonetheless. Unfortunately, not everyone will be sobered as many will take up the nihilistic philosophy of “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

Daniel is given a reminder of these two responses, being told that God’s people shall purify themselvesbut the wicked shall act wickedly. Regardless of what the coming days bring, whether prosperity or tribulation, these are the only possible responses. God’s people will be refined by their circumstances, as children being shaped under the loving discipline of our heavenly Father, while the wicked will continue to endlessly pursue wickedness. Though they face the same conditions, the outcomes are different because their hearts are different. As Paul wrote in Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defile and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” The godly will perpetually be purified because they have already been made pure. The wicked will perpetually defile everything because their hearts and minds are already defiled.

Of course, we know that the default position of humanity under the fall of sin is defilement. The world’s pursuit after “following your heart” was always going to end in disaster because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand (v. 10). The wise, of course, are ultimately those who come to know Christ who is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The wise are not pure because of their own purified deeds; instead, the wise are those who have found their purification in Another. A man is not wise for attempting to wash himself in the same stagnant pool of water than muddied him in the first place; rather, he is wise for washing himself in the clear and flowing river. All worldly efforts to wash away our wickedness are like that stagnant and muddy pool. Since this world is itself sullied by sin, there is nothing in this world that can offer us the true cleanliness of purification; we must go beyond the world. Rather, Someone from beyond this world must come to us.

Is this not the glorious news of the gospel? We were covered by the filth of our sin, and the greatest morality that the world can offer was only a perfume placed upon a corpse. It only momentarily covered the stench of decay. Yet while there was nothing within this sin-scarred world to save us, God sent His Son from beyond this world. Indeed, He sent His Son through Whom He made the world. We could not come to God, so He came to us. For all the elements of truth that other religions and philosophies might possess, they lack this unthinkably good news. The religions and the philosophies of the world summon us to do and to earn, while Christ summons us to come and become. Only Christ is the living stream that is truly able to wash away our sins and make us clean, and our cleanliness comes by no morality of our own, only through coming to Christ to be make pure. These two present conditions will eventually bear their respective eternal fruit during the resurrection of the dead: one to life everlasting and the other to everlasting contempt.

All who are faithful in Christ also have the marvelous promise made to Daniel in verse 13: And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days. Faithfulness for Daniel, of course, involved serving a wicked government, rebuking kings, and facing a den of lions, yet his end was rest and an allotted place with His God. Patient endurance is required to face the trials of this life, yet for all who conquer in Christ, eternal joy awaits. Indeed, consider the promises that Christ Himself made to the seven churches of Revelation, and note that He states that each promise belongs to “the one who conquers:”

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

2:7

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

2:11

To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

2:17

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give to him the morning star.

2:26-28

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

3:5

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

3:11-12

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

3:21

Yet who is the one who will conquer? Paul tells us in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
                        we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rooted in this steadfast hope, let us go our way, just as Daniel did. In all that we have seen, the prophet loved and served His God, while also serving and honoring those around him. And although Daniel’s life was lived as an example for us, his fearful response to these visions reminds us that he was still a sinful man like us. We look, therefore, to One who is greater, who is our Prophet, Priest, and King. And as our Savior shows us that the end is both near and here, but we do not need to fret or fear. God has given us in His Word a glimpse of that glorious day of our Lord’s return and of our resurrection, and we need to know no more than that. Until that Day, let us go about our King’s business, loving Him with all our heart, soul, and might and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves, following the example of Christ, who is the greater Daniel.

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