The book of Daniel contains many insights into what God is doing in history and how he will fulfil his purposes. The Old Testament reading is taken from the last chapter of the book, and these verses are the climax of the last of Daniel’s visions. Clearly the end of the age is in view. But is this view pure imagination, is it merely a historic snap shot of the way people used to think once upon a time but do so no longer, or is it more than that? Is this ‘The Word of the Lord’ for us today?
I believe that this is indeed the Word of the Lord, that it is as relevant to us as it was for the people in Daniel’s day and Jesus’ day, and that we ignore it at our peril.
The passage begins with talking about Michael. The name Michael was reasonably common and occurs in several of the lists of names in the Bible. However, here he is described as ‘the Prince who protects your people’, and elsewhere in Daniel it is obvious that he is an important and powerful spirit being. In the New Testament he is called an archangel (Jude v9), and in the Book of Revelation he is seen as the chief of the angels. To modern ears that all sounds legendary, the stuff of fairy tales; but that is because we find it difficult to take seriously anything that cannot be measured or tested. The Bible would agree with Shakespeare when he makes Hamlet say, ‘There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. According to the Bible, God is working his purposes out in the teeth of bitter opposition from dark powers; and he has in his service not only human beings like ourselves but also spiritual forces for good such as Michael and his angels, including Gabriel who appeared to Mary and others in the New Testament. There are such beings as ‘guardian angels’, and Michael is said to be one – though he is responsible for a group of people, not just an individual.
However, the interesting thing about Michael’s entrance in the scene is that it heralds a time of unprecedented suffering for God’s people, which will come before the end of the age. Michael may indeed protect his people – but not by giving them freedom from suffering and pain. What these verses do is to reassure us that even when circumstances become as bad as can be, God is there, and we will still be surrounded by angelic forces who will prevent Satan and his team from achieving their ultimate goal. We will be delivered, even if we do have to pass through suffering and death. But notice who ‘we’ are: ‘everyone whose name is found written in the book’ – the book of life.
The ‘book of life’ appears again in the New Testament. Jesus told his disciples not to rejoice because they could do miracles and cast out evil spirits, but because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20). Their names were written in the book of life, not because they had achieved anything or had spiritual power, but because they were disciples of Jesus. All who believe in Jesus and follow him have eternal life – that is his promise.
The passage then goes on to talk about resurrection – a resurrection of everybody, followed by a final judgement. Jesus talked about this many times, both in parables and in direct teaching – we will have to give an account for every careless word we utter (Matthew 12:36,37). Daniel talks only about the result: everlasting life, or shame and everlasting contempt. He does not attempt to describe these different outcomes, and maybe we should not attempt to imagine them. He contents himself with saying that the wise will shine, as will those who ‘lead many to righteousness’. It is as if the glory that they have, invisible during their earthly lives, becomes visible to all for all eternity. Paul takes up the same image, but applies it to all the Philippian Christians who, he says, are shining like stars as they hold out the word of life (Philippians 2:15,16).
Resurrection, judgement, then life or shame. These are coming. Be prepared!
1. Each of us has to prepare for the end of life as we know it. How should we get ready for what comes next?
2. Who are the ‘wise’ in our day? Who are those who ‘lead many to righteousness’? How can we do the same?