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Failure and Faithfulness in Daniel 12: Reflections for Pastors

Failure and Faithfulness in Daniel 12: Reflections for Pastors

by Wendy L. Widder, adapted from her new book The Story of God Bible Commentary: Daniel (Tremper Longman III and Scot McKnight, General Editors). Use this reflection in a sermon, small group, counseling session, or even your personal devotions.

Bryan Chapell recounts the late-in-life words of a gifted friend who had begun vocational ministry with “great acclaim about his potential.” However, as providence would have it, he “faced immense opposition in successive ministries without apparent resolution or triumph.” With much of his career behind him, Chapell’s friend said, “All my dreams have died. All that I hoped to accomplish, all I hoped to see, all I hoped to hear — barring some great miracle — will not happen in this life. I have only one dream left: to be faithful to God’s calling.”

Daniel’s final vision (Daniel 10:1 – 12:13) creates the context for plenty of dying dreams and the need for faithfulness in the midst of them. God’s people will be caught in a sovereign cycle of suffering until the time of the end, an end that comes not with a whimper but with unprecedented distress (12:1).

Thankfully, this distress will give way to the ultimate defeat of the wicked and reward for the righteous. It will bring the consummation of the glorious hope that we first saw in Daniel 7. That chapter ushered us into the throne room of the Ancient of Days, where the one like a son of man received the eternal kingdom, a kingdom the saints inherited with him (7:13 – 14, 18, 27). But the horrifying visions that followed this magnificent scene often clouded its glorious hope, making it hard at times to remember it was even there. What finally becomes clear by book’s end is that this glorious scene will not transpire in this life; it awaits the next.

The next life begins with the resurrection, where some will rise to life and others will face shame and everlasting contempt (12:2). Such hope of bodily resurrection and everlasting life are grounded in the completed work of Christ. Because Jesus came, suffered, died and was buried, rose again, and ascended to heaven, we have hope. Because he came and suffered, we have a great high priest who can intercede for us throughout this life (Heb 4:14 – 15). Because he died and was buried, we can be sure all hostile powers have been vanquished (Col 2:14 – 15). Because he rose again, we can know that we too will rise (1 Cor 15:21 – 23). Because he ascended, we live in a world where a new order is at work, “an underground resistance to the principalities and powers of sin and death.” Were none of this true, we would be the most miserable of people, grounding our lives in empty promises (1 Cor 15:19). Because all of it is true, our joy and hope are unbounded.

But for now, we await the appointed time. The scroll of Daniel’s vision was rolled and sealed because the appointed time of the end had not yet come (Dan 12:9). But centuries later on the island of Patmos when John recorded disturbing visions of his own, he was instructed not to roll the scroll and seal it because the time was near (Rev 22:10). We are living in the time of the end and have been since the first century AD when Jesus came to inaugurate his eternal kingdom. How long this time will last, we cannot know. Only the Father knows (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32), but we can trust that he is at work, that he is in control, and that at just the right time he will bring history to its appointed end. Meanwhile, we endure the delay and the suffering Daniel’s divine visitor said to expect.

The disappointment and hardships I have faced in my life are barely a featherweight on the scale of suffering God’s people have endured throughout history. Millions of lives have been unfairly ravaged and will never be restored this side of glory. Sure, Job got back double what he lost, but we have no good reason to think his experience represents God’s promise to us.

God’s promise to us, embedded in the resurrection of Christ, is that the old, familiar order of things will pass completely away, and “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4). Because of the resurrection, glorious new life and reward await us.

Meanwhile, we should not be surprised if “reward” does not show up beforehand. We should expect to suffer. We should expect that dreams will die. And those of us entrusted with the high calling of feeding and caring for God’s sheep should prepare our flocks to persevere. We should prepare them to endure with the sure hope that the suffering of this life will not last.

Plenty of dreams will die on this side of the grave, but on the other side of the resurrection will be never-ending newness. In the words of C. S. Lewis, this present life is only the cover and the title page. We await “Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

— Wendy L. Widder, The Story of God Bible Commentary: Daniel

How to Use This Book

SGBC: Daniel will help you teach fresh lessons from the Book of Daniel, which is full of memorable characters and stories—and startling visions of the future.

This commentary, specially designed for clergy, will help you understand and teach how the scriptural story meets your own story. Learn from the commentary’s three sections:
(1) LISTEN to the Story: Includes the complete NIV text, plus references to other texts at work in each passage. This way you’ll experience each passage as a part of the Bible’s grand story.
(2) EXPLAIN the Story: Explores and illuminates each text from within its canonical and historical setting.
(3) LIVE the Story: Reflects on how each text can be lived today and includes contemporary stories and illustrations. (Widder’s selection above is pulled from LIVE the Story.)

Get this book on Daniel to help you and your congregation live out God’s story.

Buy the Book to Learn More