Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 12 (with application)

In this final post on responsibly interpreting the visions of Daniel, I will offer up my thoughts on chapter twelve. Furthermore, I have included at the end of each section the practical applications (in italics) which seek to demonstrate how this book would have been used to direct and comfort the original readers.

 

Daniel 12:1-3

This chapter begins with a temporal phrase “at that time” which connects it with the previous verse, Dan 11:45. The death and demise of Antiochus is predicted by the author of Daniel, and the beginning of chapter twelve attempts to understand this event in light of what is taking place within the heavenly realm. Michael the prince, the angel who is guards the Jewish people (in contrast to the angels representing other nations in 10:13, 20), will arise to action. What particular action Michael takes at this point is not answered by the narrator. The next thing mentioned is a time of distress/trouble unlike anything which had taken place up to that time. Sadly, we wish that the author would offer up some specifics regarding this time of distress. The only clue we receive is the comment regarding how those written in the book (literally: scroll) will be rescued. But what kind of rescue? Deliverance from battle? Or could the promised deliverance be in reference to the resurrection mentioned in the next verse (12:2)? If so, Dan 12:1 serves to encourage that those recorded in God’s book/scroll to rest assured that they will indeed be vindicated from their distress. The verse then has more of an encouraging ethical slant to it than being a specific account of verifiable events in history.

graves.JPGDaniel 12:2 gives readers arguably the first clear reference to bodily resurrection in the Bible. If this verse was intended to expand upon the nature of the deliverance mentioned previously, then the particular details offered are likely the intended emphasis stressed by the author. Many persons are described as “sleeping,” a metaphor for unconscious death in the grave used in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Where are they sleeping? In the dust of the ground (not in heaven). What will happen to those sleeping? They will awake (i.e., be raised from the grave). Then those raised are described as belonging in one of two groups. Either they are resurrected to everlasting life or they are raised to shame and everlasting abhorrence. The promise that the faithful will be raised from the dead to unending life would again encourage the readers to remain loyal and true, even if faced with martyrdom.

The maskilim appear again in Dan 12:3, this time indicating that their resurrection state will be glorious and bright like the firmament of heaven. The passage then notes how these will lead many toward faithful covenant behavior (“righteousness”). The reference to stars might indicate that they will share in the state of the host of heaven (cf. Dan 8:10; Luke 10:18; 20:36). If the maskilim will be thus rewarded then this passage would encourage the readers to either adopt the maskilim ideology and response to persecution or to dedicate themselves to following their leading.

 

Daniel 12:4

At this point, the mediating angel turns to Daniel and commands him to seal up these words. This implies that he has been writing down these visions all along, although the text only now mentions this point. These words are to be sealed up until “a time of an end” (no definite articles). Some translations wrongly translate this Hebrew phrase as “the end of time,” which is both unfair as a translation and utterly nonsensical (will time cease to be?). One needs to conclude as to which “end” the angel is referring. Since the crisis of Daniel 11 (not to mention chs. 2, 7, 8, and 9) has always ended with struggled involving the Greek kingdom, often explicitly in conjunction with the little horn setting up the abomination of desolation, the “end” naturally refers to his demise and the subsequent relief of the faithful people of God. The act of “sealing” involved a signet ring with both authenticated the document and protected it from tampering. Those living in the midst of the persecution under Antiochus IV would feel extremely privileged to be reading these insights, thus encouraging them to make the appropriate social and ethical responses to the ensuing Syrian persecution.

The mention at the conclusion of 12:4 regarding many who will “go back and forth” draws upon Amos 8:12 which states that,

People will stagger from sea to sea

And from the north even to the east;

They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,

But they will not find it.

The sense in Amos is that people will actively seek God’s word and direction, but will come up short. Daniel, in contrast, declares that “knowledge will increase.” The unsealing of these words will provide the appropriate response for the people of God in the midst of persecution in addition to providing them with the hope that if they suffer as martyrs then they will indeed rise from the grave on the last day.

 

Daniel 12:5

At this point the narrator becomes Daniel, who hasn’t spoken since chapter ten. He observes two other angels standing on opposite sides of the Tigris River (cf. 10:4). This recalls the dialogue back and forth with two angels in 8:13-14. It is no surprise that both in 8:14 and in 12:6 the very same question is asked (“How long…”). If this phrase keeps showing up, as it commonly appears in other prophetic works seeking to comfort those in the midst of pagan persecution (cf. Rev 6:10; Hab 1:2), then it would here serve to offer authoritative guidance from heaven as to when God’s intervention will soon take place in order to deliver the afflicted from the situation’s plight, thus encouraging the faithful to loyally stick it out just a little bit longer.

 

Daniel 12:6-7

One of the angels asks the other the important question. Daniel again is situated as the listener of this important dialogue between heavenly messengers, just as the reader gets to share in the same receptive experience. The specific questions deals with how long it will be until the end of wonders. The Hebrew translated “wonders” (hapilaot) appears in two other places in Daniel, so it would be prudent for interpreters to see to which “wonders” are being alluded here. The phrase shows up in 8:24 and 11:36:

His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree (literally: “wonderful things”) and prosper and perform his will; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people. (Dan 8:24 NASB)

Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things (literally: “wonderful things”) against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done. (Dan 11:36 NASB)

Both in Dan 8:24 and in 11:36 the subject clearly is Antiochus Epiphanes. Therefore, the question asked by the angel in Dan 12:6 seeks to know “how much longer will the wonderful acts of Antiochus continue?”

“When will they end?”

“How much longer do we have to suffer?”

This question, worded differently, was also raised by the two angels back in 8:13, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” Put differently, Dan 12:6 asks how much longer until the end of the wonders of Antiochus and Dan 8:13 asks how long will the horrifying transgression interrupt the sacrifices leading to the persecution of the Jerusalem temple and the host. Both questions cover the very same events. This is also argued by John Collins in his Hermeneia commentary on Daniel:

The question, “How long?” is the one raised in 8:13. The root פֶּ֫לֶא, “wonder,” is used in a different form for the deeds of Antiochus Epiphanies in 8:24 and 11:36. If the reference is the same here, the angel is asking not about the end of the resurrection and judgment but about the end of the events descried down to the end of chapter 11. (p. 399)

In other words, the question of the angel deals with the end of the extraordinary/wondrous atrocities committed by Antiochus and not about the number of days between the wonders and the resurrection spoken of in 12:2. The second angel responds in 12:7 by giving a cryptic phrase “time, times, and half a time” (referring to three and a half years). After this designated period of time, “all these will be completed.” The Hebrew construction here indicates that “all these” are feminine plural, matching the plural feminine word hapilaot specifically asked about in the question of 12:6. In sum, the heavenly messengers give encouraging news that Antiochus will only perform his wondrous acts of evil for a short period of three and a half years before God intervenes.

 

Daniel 12:8-10

The protagonist does not seem to understand this cryptic response, so he asks for clarification. The angel responds by telling him to go on his way, as these oracles are sealed up for “a time of an end” (again, no definite articles in this Hebrew phrase). The angel continues by noting how those with insight (the maskilim) will purge, purify, and refine. The wicked, however, not understand. This emphasis on the three verbal actions of the maskilim has already appeared in their description back in 11:35. Daniel’s readers are again encouraged to follow the lead of the maskilim, namely, their nonviolent and faithful ideology.

 

Daniel 12:11-12

In this verse (12:11) the angel gives a numerical answer which is clearer than the previous cryptic phrase of “time, times, and a half a time.” From the moment when the regular temple sacrifice is interrupted and the abomination of desolation is set up in place of that altar there will be 1,290 days. This number equates out to three and a half years, and it is not a coincidence that the pagan altar (abomination of desolation) remained from its erection in the summer of 167 until its removal in December of 164.

Then Dan 12:12 offers a revised number, offering a blessing upon those who wait for an extra forty-five days, totally in 1,335 total. As I noted in my previous post, there are three increasing numerical answers to the same “How long?” question asked. Daniel 8:14 answers it in what was likely the first prediction: 1,150 days. Daniel 12:11 answers it with a revised number: 1,290 days. Then the very next verse (12:12) revises the prediction yet again to 1,335 days. In the end, the final verse (12:13) gives a specific answer to Daniel which serves to definitively conclude the dialogue and the book itself. Needless to say, readers of Daniel in the midst of the persecution begun by Antiochus and his Syrian forces can rest assured that God will intervene and defeat the evil king in roughly three and a half years from the setting up of the abomination of desolation on top of the sacrificial altar.

 

Daniel 12:13

The angel turns to Daniel and speaks about his fate. Daniel will indeed die (“rest”) and rise up in resurrection. He will come to his allotted portion of inheritance upon arising resssfrom his grave. All of this will take place at the “end of days.” What is interesting for critical readers is that the Hebrew words used here for “rest” and “rise” both differ from the synonymous words used in 12:2 (“sleep” and “awake”), strengthening the case that the final verses of Daniel chapter twelve were added by the final redactor in order to revise the predicted 1,150 and 1,290 day periods. Regardless of how the predictions turned out, the final word in Daniel is that he, the prototypical maskil who refused pagan accommodation and idol-worship, would be rewarded with a resurrection unto his allotted inheritance. This would serve to again encourage the reader to follow in the footsteps of Daniel in hopes of attaining the same resurrection hope and reward.  

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“Absent from the Body, Present with the Lord” -Heaven at Death or Resurrection Hope?

In this short video I demonstrate that 2 Corinthians 5:8 almost certainly refers to Paul’s hope for the return of Jesus in order to cloth him with his resurrection body. The popular view, which suggests that Paul is here teaching that his immortal soul leaves his body at death to go to be present with the Lord in heaven, is to be rejected as confused.

Be sure to share this video if you think it will speak truth to others.

Book Review (part 18: The Development of Paul’s Christology by Ignatius) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Good news, everyone. I am almost finished with the book (less than 100 pages to go). I will probably have about five more posts before I pursue something else (a new book on Christology perhaps). Anyways, this is the eighteenth post on my recap/review of James Dunn’s volume Neither Jew nor Greek.

I wanted in this post to draw upon an interesting section in Dunn’s chapter about the lasting impact of Paul within the NT and the second century believers (Apologists, Church Fathers, Marcion, and Gnostics). Being such a pivotal figure in the expansion of the Gentile mission Paul certainly made an impact, attracting both friends and critics alike. Very often students of church history look upon how Paul was interpreted by his earliest readers in order to find clues as to what Paul might have meant in his letters, especially in some of the more cryptic and difficult-to-understand passages (even 2 Peter 3:16 states that Paul is difficult). Perhaps Paul’s earliest interpreters possess some insight which has been lost over the last 2,000 years.

iconHowever, it is also plausible that some of the earliest interpreters either misrepresent, misunderstand, or develop Paul beyond what was originally intended. No one doubts that the Gnostics misunderstood (and very likely abused) Paul’s teachings to further their own docetic doctrines and agendas. After examining how the apostle Paul was taught by Ignatius, the Bishop of Syria who was martyred during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117), Dunn concludes that a considerable shift has taken place which makes Ignatius uniquely stand out among this contemporaries (Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Aristides, Odes of Solomon). Dunn argues in particular that:

it can quite readily be argued that Ignatius’s emphases represent understandable developments from Paul’s theology…particularly in regard to christology (p. 691)

Dunn notes that Ignatius polemizes an emerging docetic teaching and suggests that this best explains the shift from Paul’s own teachings. Note how Ignatius responds to his theological opponents in his letter to the church in Tralles:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer… then why am I in bonds?…But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer…I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality…God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb (Trall. 10, trans. Roberts-Donaldson)

This allows Ignatius the personal justification to describe Jesus as the one “who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible” (Eph. 7.2, trans. Roberts-Donaldson).

What is especially interesting is that Ignatius’s stress on the ‘flesh’ of Jesus brings him to actually argue that Jesus rose from the dead in the flesh. The particular quote comes from Smyrn. 3.1,

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now.

This goes against the lengthy argument of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:35-50 where the apostle differentiates the mortal body of flesh from the resurrection body of spirit. Dunn notes that Ignatius is well aware of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, noting thirteen places where it is cited or echoed within the Ignatian corpus. Therefore, it seems that Ignatius has taken Paul’s arguments regarding the body of Jesus beyond what was originally intended. Dunn even notes a development in Paul’s ecclesiology in the writings of Ignatius, further contributing to the above conclusion.

In sum, Dunn observes that Ignatius has taken the arguments of Paul’s views of Christ and significantly developed them within polemical discussions with docetic Christians in the early decades of the second century CE.

 

How Justin Martyr Defined ‘Christian’ with Afterlife Theology

I have long known of this rather interesting quote tucked away in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho. I later reengaged this passage in some detail when I read a former professor’s dissertation which examined the development of the doctrine of immortality in the Church Fathers. Justin, who lived from 106-165 CE, was a highly trained philosopher who later became a prominent Christian teacher in Rome. He was later beheaded for his profession to Christianity.

Concerning the subject regarding what happens at death and the role of the future resurrection, Justin says this:

For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians. –Dialogue with Trypho, 80:9 

This statement is rather striking, considering Justin was a Greek philosopher by training before converting to Christianity. Justin argues that those who downplay the future resurrection by saying that souls go to heaven when they die are not to be considered as Christians.

Of course, there is no mention of immortal souls going to heaven anywhere in the Bible, despite the fact that this doctrine is taken for granted by the vast majority of Christians.

One wonders if Justin, the prominent Church Father, would be accepted in most churches today…

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An Increasing Awareness of Resurrection Theology in the LXX

For Jews and Christians, resurrection is a wonderful doctrine. Not only does it promise that we will be reunited with our loved ones when God breathes new life into their bodies, but it also give assurance that the unrighteous will not escape the day of judgment. Although one may be able to glimpse hints of resurrection theology in the Hebrew Bible, no passage is more explicit than Dan. 12:2, “Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to the life of the age to come, and others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

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I wanted to draw attention to a few passages in the Septuagint which actually alter the Hebrew text into a more ‘resurrection themed’ theology. Consider the following examples:

If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

If a man dies, he will live (Job 14:14 LXX)

 

Even after my skin is destroyed… (Job 19:26a)

[God] will resurrect my skin (Job 19:26a LXX)

 

And Job died, an old man and full of days. (Job 42:17)

And Job died, an old man and full of days: and it is written that he will rise again with those whom the Lord resurrects. (Job 42:17 LXX)

 

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? (Hosea 13:14)

I will deliver them out of the power of Hades, and will redeem them from death: (Hosea 13:14 LXX)

 

One can only wonder if/how these texts influenced Jesus or even (especially in the case with the LXX) Paul.

“And so we will forever be with the Lord”

Imagine for a moment that you lived in Thessalonica. Paul had founded your church community not long ago, but was there for only a short time. He had taught you about this Jewish man Jesus Christ, who was really the son of the one true God of Israel. He died at the hands of the Romans, but was raised to eternal life three days later. He was coming back again to fix this world up and consummate God’s kingdom. In the meantime, you are to live lives of holiness, peace, love, and joy. Sounds great, right?

But what if your church is under persecution by the local authorities? Perhaps the local imperial cult has heard that your group is calling someone other than Caesar the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God, etc. During these skirmishes, some of your church members were killed for their profession of faith to Jesus. Your community begins to mourn their losses.

 Paul hears of this tragedy and wants to comfort you. Here is what he writes:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.

 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.  -1 Thes. 4:13-18

 You try to understand Paul’s words of comfort. First, he does not want you to mourn like others who have no hope. This implies that there really is a hope for you and your fallen friends. This hope is bound up in the fact that since Jesus was raised from the dead, you too will be raised from the dead. This will occur when Jesus returns in glory. All the believers will be caught up together in the air. Then Paul uses a very interesting word. The Gk. apantesis was a word which was used when the Emperor was coming to visit and those expecting him would go out to escort him back to the town. You understand this as a simple “meeting,” but its purpose is to escort the royal visitor back to the earth.

Then Paul says something very carefully: kai oupos pantote sun kurio esometha. This means, literally, “and by this process, we will forever be with the Lord.”

Back to 2010. Paul just clearly stated to the Thessalonians that they will be “with the Lord” by means of the resurrection of the dead upon the arrival of Christ Jesus. Paul does not comfort them by saying that the dead are already in heaven and when you get there then you will always be with the Lord.

Why aren’t the words of comfort given by Paul taken seriously by most Christians?