When Sleepers Wake
Judgment follows this life, then eternity.
Please read Daniel 12:1-4 in your Bible. I researched the NIV (1984) for this message.
In a poll taken in 2017, 69% of Americans said that death was a subject they generally avoided. Not surprisingly, this means that the majority of Americans (72%) have no written plans. Of the unprepared, the chief reason given for being unprepared is “Haven’t Got Around to It” (49%) with “Never Considered It” second at 27%.
(“Views and Experiences with End-of-Life Medical Care in the U.S.,” https://www.kff.org/report-section/views-and-experiences-with-end-of-life-medical-care-in-the-us-findings/.)
The reality is that the mortality rate in America is 100%. Everyone dies. Death brings a lot of work for the survivors. These are certainties. So it certainly seems wise to be prepared and make surviving as easy as possible for our family members especially.
What is true in legal and social matters is also true in our spiritual life. By faith we hope to be raised to eternal life after life in this world ends. We take the first step of faith by accepting Jesus as our Savior and thereby gain heaven. But our preparations for life after death do not stop there. The way we live after that decision, the subsequent steps of faith (like baptism, for instance), and the life-long process of spiritual maturity also prepare us for eternal life.
Daniel received a vision of what lies beyond death and further, beyond the entire human race. We’ll take a look at a small but essential part of that vision this morning.
Our passage begins with the words AT THAT TIME, referring back to 11:36-45, which describes a great war fought against the Kings of the North and South by an unnamed third king. After a great conflict, this king will be defeated. Our passage begins at the time following that conflict.
1. What’s going to happen tomorrow? (1-2)
By “tomorrow” I refer to the end of time. In the Old Testament it is called the “Day of the Lord.” In the New Testament it is called the “Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” It will happen “tomorrow” in the sense that it is a future event, but the timing is uncertain.
Who is Michael? Michael is also referred to as A GREAT PRINCE in 10:13+21 where an unidentified supernatural being (earlier visions - chapters 8+9 - name Gabriel as the messenger) said that Michael helped him resist THE PRINCE OF THE PERSIAN KINGDOM. Daniel has two of four mentions of Michael in the entire Bible. Here are the other two: in Jude 9 it is written that Michael was an ARCHANGEL who contended with the devil for the body of Moses. In Revelation 12:7, Michael led angels in a heavenly battle against an ENORMOUS RED DRAGON. In all four of these passages, Michael PROTECTS God’s people. The word “protect” literally means “to stand beside.” Picture a body guard or Secret Service agent who’s an angel!
After the great conflict of kings, the angel Michael WILL ARISE. ARISE is translated from the Hebrew word amad. It meant to stand, be assigned, presented, or appointed. It is almost exclusive to Daniel.
Michael’s appearance will be a signal event, beginning a time of greatest DISTRESS. The word DISTRESS (Hebrew, sara) means “trouble, calamity, anguish, or hardship.” The worst of times will precede the best of times.
This DISTRESS will be worse than anything experienced from THE BEGINNING OF NATIONS UNTIL THEN. In terms of biblical history, the BEGINNING OF THE NATIONS can be traced back to Genesis 10, the accounting of nations composed of the three sons of Noah. From that specific point in history until an undefined point in the future, Michael’s appearance will signal a stretch of unparalleled suffering.
Some interpreters want to harmonize this verse with the mention of a GREAT TRIBULATION in Revelation 7:14. Also; Jesus referred to a similar circumstance in MTW 24:21, using language very similar to Daniel’s. These passages describe similar events but a linkage isn’t strictly necessary. It’s enough for us at the moment to merely observe Daniel’s teaching.
The text doesn’t identify this DISTRESS as persecution. Instead, it says only that Daniel’s PEOPLE will be DELIVERED from this time of DISTRESS. It could be a world-wide problem.
This has been a lot of bad news, but here’s where the good news is found: in the promise of deliverance, made to EVERYONE WHOSE NAME IS FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK. This BOOK is linked to other Scriptures that mention a listing of persons who have eternal life (see EXS 32:33; PSS 69:28; MLI 3:16; LKE 10:20; PPS 4:3; HBS 12:22-23; RVN 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12+15; 21:27). As you can see, the image of “The Book of Life” is one that enjoys solid biblical support.
The promise is that the enrolled WILL BE DELIVERED. In this context, the deliverance is from the DISTRESS. In Revelation 21:8, the promise goes further: those enlisted will be DELIVERED from the power of Satan and the “Second Death.”
As we have noted, the point of the passage is resurrection will precede judgment. The angel said MULTITUDES will be involved. In point of fact, all people will be resurrected to face God’s judgment; believers & unbelievers alike.
SLEEP is either a metaphor for death or for a period of unconsciousness between death and Judgment Day. Take your pick of either interpretation; the biblical evidence is not as decisive as some want you to believe. (In fact, in my experience, people who argue against an interim period of unconsciousness (aka “soul sleep”) do so with unnecessary vociferousness that makes me suspect their overreaction is based on their inner sense they are wrong. Just saying.) Historically, we know Jews of this time believed in a period of unconsciousness between the moment of death and the Day of the Lord.
There will be a division of the sleepers when they awaken. Jesus made this same prediction in John 5:28-29,
“DO NOT BE AMAZED AT THIS, FOR A TIME IS COMING WHEN ALL WHO ARE IN THEIR GRAVES WILL HEAR HIS VOICE AND COME OUT - THOSE WHO HAVE DONE GOOD WILL RISE TO LIVE, AND THOSE WHO HAVE DONE EVIL WILL RISE TO BE CONDEMNED.”
SOME of the sleepers will awaken to EVERLASTING LIFE. This is a reference to heaven; living eternally with God and His people.
SOME will awaken to SHAME AND EVERLASTING CONTEMPT. This is a reference to hell: final and complete separation from God. In Revelation 20, the division is between those who are blessed with LIFE and those who suffer a SECOND DEATH.
The word EVERLASTING means exactly what you think it does - endless, even timeless. God is forever in the present. Those welcomed into His presence will join Him in that spiritual state.
2. What do I need to do today? (3-4)
First, I need to BE WISE, because the reward for wisdom is shining LIKE THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE HEAVENS. See Daniel 11:33-35, where this promise is described in more detail. The word WISE meant to “observe carefully, instruct, act circumspectly.”
Second, I need to LEAD MANY TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, because the reward is to be LIKE THE STARS FOR EVER AND EVER. The most important “fruit” or outcome or even proof a truly godly life is helping others to share our faith; making new disciples. The angel even quantifies this fruit with the word MANY. This word recommends ambition in our witness. Counter to our unfortunate tendency to look after ourselves, Christianity is NOT a self-help group. Like Jesus, we exist to serve, not to be served.
Note two important consistencies in these promises: They both elaborate on the eternal rewards given to those God judges to be true believers. In both cases, the reward is to “shine brightly.” This is a figure of speech for living praiseworthy lives. We will shine with the reflected glory of God.
Daniel’s task was to CLOSE UP AND SEAL THE WORDS OF THE SCROLL. (See also Daniel 8:26.) What is on the SCROLL? Presumably, the words of this prophecy, even though at no time is Daniel commanded to write it down. (This is contrary to Revelation 21:5 where John is told to write down God’s words and Revelation 22:10 where he is commanded to NOT seal up the words of the prophecy.) It was to be closed and sealed UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END. Are we to connect this with the scroll in Revelation whose seven seals are broken open?
Why keep it closed and sealed? We can make several observations here.
One, in ancient times, the originals of all important documents were kept locked up. Duplicates might be written out, but the originals were kept safely against the need to settle future disputes. The scribe who wrote out the record affixed his seal, as did the various witnesses. These seals distinguished the original version from all copies. Taking this into account, it seems most likely that the angel is commanding Daniel to keep the original version from all revision and corruption. Only the revealed word of God in the words God inspired is sufficient information for our salvation.
Two, the cryptic phrase “MANY WILL GO HERE AND THERE TO INCREASE KNOWLEDGE” is offered as an explanation. The phrase described repetitive motions, like a swimmer’s arms or harvesters gathering grain. It is a figure of speech for people searching for knowledge of the future and spiritual things. We might say, “They’re going to rush hither and yon to search for the truth.” Closing and sealing the text prevents them from potentially misusing the message delivered to Daniel, as he holds the authorized copy safe.
Three, God’s purpose in closing and sealing may be found in vs. 9-10:
HE REPLIED, “GO YOUR WAY, DANIEL, BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE CLOSED UP AND SEALED UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END. MANY WILL BE PURIFIED, SPOTLESS AND REFINED, BUT THE WICKED WILL CONTINUE TO BE WICKED. NONE OF THE WICKED WILL UNDERSTAND, BUT THOSE WHO ARE WISE WILL UNDERSTAND.”
This is similar to Revelation 22:11, another angelic message;
“LET HIM WHO DOES WRONG CONTINUE TO DO WRONG; LET HIM WHO DOES RIGHT CONTINUE TO DO RIGHT; AND LET HIM WHO IS HOLY CONTINUE TO BE HOLY.”
Verses like these emphasize the rule of God over human free will and His foreknowledge of who will be saved. It is a warning to continue to be faithful, even though there are people who will stubbornly deny God all the way to hell. As 1 John 3:9 says, NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD WILL CONTINUE TO SIN. It is by faith and by the Holy Spirit that God’s word is understood. This prophecy would be CLOSED to those who lack the faith to understand it, sealed against those who would deny its truthfulness.
Fourth, this statement is typical to apocalyptic literature. A reason for that may be to protect the identity of the writer until after his death.
Fifth, CLOSED and SEALED are figures of speech similar to Paul’s use of the word “mystery” to refer to something that was previously unknown.
Whatever CLOSED and SEALED is supposed to mean, we should not lose sight of the lesson made in this prophecy:
Judgment follows this life, then eternity.
Some Bible scholars over-simplify the Old Testament. They say, for example, that the doctrines of resurrection and eternal life are not to be found in the OT or are dimmed. (Other examples: JOB 14:11-14; 19:26; PSS 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:23-24; ISH 25:8; 26:19: HSA 13:14.) To be sure, the picture of the afterlife is not as clear in the OT as i/t NT. For example, some Scriptures refer to the abode of the dead as Sheol, a place where ghostly versions of deceased folk (2SL 12:23; JOB 7:9; ECS 9:5+10) exist, but don’t really live, awaiting the Day of the Lord. But this is one of many reasons we talk about the Bible being a “progressive revelation.” That means that God revealed more and more of the truth as time progressed and as we read from Genesis to Revelation.
Perhaps you’d agree our passage today is as clear a reference to resurrection and eternal life as a person would hope to find anywhere in the Bible. That’s why I felt lead to this passage, to affirm these two truths on All Saints Sunday. Today of all days we need to have our hope for eternal life undergirded by what God’s messenger told Daniel.
A video version of this message may be seen on YouTube at “EBCSF.”
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.
More Hard Sayings of the OT, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
The Daily Study Bible Series, D.S. Russell.