“By smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action…yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days.” (Daniel 11:32-33)
We live in interesting times. For decades our culture has raged against God. Like giddy children playing Jenga, intellectual elites have been busy removing the foundation stones of civilization. Relativism, like that fabled, uncontainable, universal solvent, has eaten through all the old certainties of life. A transparent new world beckons— a world in which men are encouraged to see through everything (which, as C.S. Lewis warns, is precisely the same as to see nothing!). In this world we stand proudly with both feet firmly planted in midair. So enlightened in our ability to parse our own identity, we honestly don’t know which restroom to use. So refined in our kindness, we spare the murder on death row. So courageous in protecting the right’s of women, we kill the child before she leaves the womb. Here is a world that will tolerate everything but the Truth and those brave enough to speak it.
None of this should surprise the Christian. The world has never been our friend. Since Genesis 3, there has been no armistice in the Serpent’s conflict with the Church. At times the battle lines are obvious, and the world shows its true colors, snapping at the Church with the venomous hatred of a viper. More often, however, the conflict is more subtle. For those willing to make just a little compromise in their walk with God, the world stands ready, like a python, to embrace the traitor with her more lethal kindness.
The prophet, Daniel had witnessed both sides of this antagonism firsthand. He had seen both the furnace and the Lion’s Den from the inside, but he had also felt the sweet, alluring defilement of the King’s table (Daniel 1:8). Resistance was not easy. It took deliberate thoughtful resolve for the young lad, far from home, to refuse this pleasant opportunity to defile himself!
Have you ever noticed how the first chapter of Daniel concludes? It leaps forward from Daniel the teenager to Daniel the Octogenarian. “And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king.” (Daniel 1:21). Sixty years later! When the rest of the wisemen lost their heads, Daniel kept his, even after Babylon’s fall and Persia’s rise. It’s almost as if the author is telling us that this one moment of faithfulness, as this young man stood in the valley of decision, stands as the secret of his longevity in the service of God. I believe God gave us this book to encourage this mindset. Do you share it?
Fast forward to Daniel 10. Three years have passed since Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Palestine. Daniel is in His twilight years, too old to make the journey home himself, but he had, no doubt, heard troubling reports from Jerusalem. The initial joy experienced by the pilgrims had evaporated. The hopeless task of rebuilding what had been lost, together with the hostility of the Samaritans “squatting” in Jerusalem, left the people thoroughly discouraged.
Concerned by this news, Daniel fasted seeking the face of God. Although his prayer received immediate response, Satanic opposition in the heavenly places delayed the angel for three weeks. At last, the messenger arrives, glowing with the glory of God, and takes Daniel on a tour of the next 500 years of future history.
As the story unfolds, the angel points Daniel forwards to the coming of Antiochus Epiphanes, a vicious, godless blasphemer who brutalized the people of God 170 years before the birth of Christ (Dan 11:21-35). After him, another King will rise, even worse (if worse can be imagined) to complete Satan’s assault against God’s beleaguered people. I believe this figure is the Anti-Christ (Dan 11:36ff).
Like his spiritual father, the devil, Antiochus Epiphanes was a deceiver and a killer. With smooth words, he flattered compromisers into hell. And with the sword, he dispatched the faithful to an early glory (11:32).
One class of people alone will have the strength to resist Him:
“…. the people who know their God will display strength and take action…yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days.” (Daniel 11:32-33)
This is the pressing need of the hour today. We need to press on in the knowledge of God, what our father’s called, experiential Calvinism. We must know God and feel this knowledge deep down in our souls. Such knowledge is especially needed in the pulpits of our land. As preachers, we simply cannot lead people where we have never been ourselves.
As I say this, J.I Packers famous observation in his book Knowing God haunts me: it is one thing to know about God, it is quite another to know Him. Physics professors and surfers know waves: The one knows them from the safe distance of laboratory. The other, however, has felt their wild, exhilarating power out in the ocean. It is precisely this kind of knowledge that we need in the Church today. Do you have it?
Writing in the New Testament, and considering the awful assault Anti-Christ will one day bring against the Church, Paul tells us many of our number do not! Many from within the visible Church will be willing to welcome the Anti-Christ’s Python-like embrace.
“(The Man of Lawlessness will come) in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason, God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12)
How could they be so foolish? Because they are weak in this vital area. They do not know God. They are neither gripped by His grace nor by His glory.
Frame by frame, Paul traces the psychology of their collapse. First, “They did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” This is tragic. The love of the truth , you see, is not something we work up from within ourselves. It is something God is willing to give to those willing to receive it! And these poor souls were not. Are you? Are you willing to let God teach you to love His Word? We learn this lesson best beneath the pulpit as men preach a theology that can be felt — felt first by themselves and then by their hearers.
Secondly, Paul tells us those vulnerable to the Anti-Christ’s charms “took pleasure in wickedness.” This searches me. If we don’t delight in God and His Word, it is almost always because we are satisfying our desire for delight somewhere else. One of the reasons, I fear, our generation is so weak in its knowledge of God is because we have eviscerated our spiritual thirst with pornography. In both pulpit and pew, this scourge is decimating the Church in America today.
In his book “The Crook in the Lot”, Thomas Boston said, “Trials are the great engine of Providence for making men appear in their true colors.” The same can be said of temptation (Matt 4:1). It proves our mettle. Like a mirror, it shows us up for who we really are. God is watching us wrestle with our pornographic age. Our response is revealing.
The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He watches all His paths (Prov 5:21 in context!)
I fear too many preachers attempt to soothe this open sore with an imbalanced preaching of grace– a grace without teeth offering peace and life without mortification. We do well to remember that the same God who said, “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound…” also said, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God!” Our people need to hear both sides of this equation. We must not be ashamed of God. Like Paul, our sermons must proclaim His whole character, both His goodness and His severity. Now is not the time to preach an unfelt Christ.
As members of the Church we must embrace the whole Christ and His whole gospel. We harm our souls by rejecting any part of it. This is the real God, the only One who can offer real hope and real mercy to the lost and undone. His grace is ferocious and it is tender, calling us back from sin to His loving embrace. As Hosea preached,
““Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”” (Hosea 6:1–3).
How could we ignore such an offer? Let us, then, press on in the knowledge of God. For only those who know God will show strength and take action. This is our moment on the stage of history, it is God’s great time for us to be alive. Now is not a time for weakness.
Rev. Dr. Neil Stewart serves as the Pastor of Christ Covenant Church (ARP) in Greensboro, NC. A former Pediatrician from Northern Ireland, he is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. He has also pastored in Georgia and rural Mississippi as a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He and his wife, Catherine, have six children.