Christians are called to live ethically today in light of both the past and the future. That is to say, we are to live according to the truths of Christ’s finished work on the cross, and we are to live in light of the future promises of God yet to be fulfilled. Daniel 12 is an example of the latter concept. Christians have an eschatological ethic, an ethic informed by the future promises of God. Because we know the future, Christians live differently in the present.
Daniel 12 concludes both the book of Daniel as a whole and the vision which Daniel was given back in chapter 10. It wraps up both the actual vision and Daniel’s experience of the vision. The first four verses conclude the actual vision. It describes an epic oppression on the people of Israel which has never before been seen. It describes both the vindication of the righteous dead and the condemnation of the wicked dead. The debate about this passage is the same as that of previous parts of the text. Do these verses describe the scene of Antiochus’ oppression of the Jews in 148-145 b.c. or do they describe the future scene of the Antichrist’s oppression of all believers? I contend that there is nothing textually that warrants a leap forward. These verses parallel what takes place in 11:40-45 and no textual break indicates a shift forward to the time of the Antichrist. Others, of course, disagree. The application to draw out, however, will not be effected by this particular debate.
The vision given to Daniel is intended to be a sufficient foundation for trusting God with the future. Whether that future is the future of Daniel’s kinsmen, or the future of all believers, we are called to trust God’s sufficient Word. The speaker of the vision tells Daniel to shut up the vision, safeguard it for the future. It was common in ancient cultures to take a document, a contract, an important statement and seal it up. Copies could be made and spread around, but the original document was to be stored away safely so that future debates about it could be resolved by consulting the original, which would remain protected and undefiled. The speaker says that many will “run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” The idea is that many will seek wisdom and seek answers, but apart from the word of the Lord it will be for not. Sam Storms sees parallels between Daniel 12 and Amos 8:11-12, which reads:
“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.
12 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.
The people of Israel were entering a time when they would not hear from God again. There would be no further revelation, no further word from the Lord. The challenge, then, would be to their trust of His previous words. Would they live in accordance with the past words which spoke to future promises? Would they maintain an eschatological ethic? That same challenge applies to us today too.
Verses 5-13 round out Daniel’s experience of the vision. The vision itself is over and Daniel hears two men standing on the banks of the river ask the “man clothed in linen” about a time frame: How long shall it be till the end of these wonders? (v. 6) Daniel himself asks about the outcome of these events in verse 8, but the speaker simply tells him to trust the Lord:
Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. (v. 9)
But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days. (v. 13)
Many people are interested with and obsessed with the days listed in verses 11 and 12, but the major point is lost for all that focus. The point of the text is to encourage Daniel to wait on the Lord, to live in light of the guaranteed promises of God regardless of the time of their fulfillment. “Go,” Daniel is told. “Live. Live in the promises of God that all will be made right and the end will come.” That’s the word that Daniel is given and it is the word we are given. Live with an eschatological ethic, a practice of living in light of the promises of God.
It is tempting to spend our days guessing about the end of all things. It is tempting to spend our time anticipating the “end times,” and focusing on world events as if they are a map to Jesus’ return. It is tempting to point out antichrists and to list dates, etc. But the word to Daniel actually suggests we live in a different way. Live as if you know God’s promises are guaranteed regardless of when they are realized. Spend your time more concerned with godliness, Kingdom living in the present, and evangelistic efforts. Live not like Chicken Little, constantly declaring the end of the world. Rather, live with hope, excitement, anticipation, and faithfulness. “Go your way till the end.”