The Bible in a Year – 2 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

2 September. Daniel chapters 11-12

Please excuse the delay in publishing the notes for the end of Daniel and all of Ezra, with only brief comments, as I was on holiday for a week and only making short notes to be typed up later.

In these last two chapters of Daniel, there is much prophecy of what would happen with wars between various kings of the “North” and “South”.  The actual territories involved are not identified, except for mention of the Temple indicating that Jerusalem is among the area being disputed. I will not comment further on this other than to note that there has rarely been a time of peace in this part of the world.

Chapter 12 contains elements of apocalyptic (end-of-the-age prophecy) that find echoes in Jesus’ teaching: the end of the system of Temple sacrifices (11:31); persecution of the Jews (12:1); resurrection of the faithful from death for final judgement (12:2). Even Daniel who received these prophecies was told not to worry “how or when” these would be fulfilled, all that mattered was to trust God.

Jesus would of course have known all this, and the fact that he said much the same merely confirms that the fulfilment of these prophecies still lay in the future in his day.   The Temple system ended within 50 years after that; the resurrection is yet to happen, and the persecution of the Jews has continued intermittently throughout history.  For us, too, all that matters is to trust in God and leave him to look after the timing.

The Bible in a Year – 31 August

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31 August. Daniel chapters 7-8

The two apocalyptic visions that are recounted here are dated in the first and third years of Belshazzar, therefore before the “writing on the wall” incident in yesterday’s reading.  They use slightly different symbols, but otherwise are much the same, with horned beasts representing countries, empires and their rulers, with one defeating another, persecution of God’s people and their eventual triumph.

Much apocalyptic writing is like this.  In the second vision, an archangel identifies two of the beasts as the Median-Persian and Greek empires; but otherwise it is pointless trying to identify particular nations and rulers in later centuries.  The principle is clear: there will often be persecution of religious groups by power-hungry men and their regimes, but (as the similar Book of Revelation puts it) those who endure to the end will be saved.

There is one verse in here which is regarded by Christians as pointing to Jesus: “I saw one like a human being [or ‘Son of Man’] coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him” (7:13). Jesus used the term Son of Man for himself, and here such a person is shown as being brought before the Creator, to be given (in the following verses) everlasting rule over the earth and the worship of its peoples.  That is how the Church has understood Jesus after his resurrection and ascension – he has become for ever the manifestation of God among people, and worthy of worship alongside the one he called Father.

These visions, terrible as they are, serve to remind us that worshipping God – directly or through Jesus – is risky in terms of the persecution that we might face, but ultimately we are on the side of the victor.


The Bible in a Year – 25 June

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25 June. Zechariah chapters 8-14.

In the first couple of chapters of this section, Zechariah’s prophecy follows the now familiar pattern of promising to restore Israel’s fortunes with Jerusalem as its capital, and judgement on their enemies.  It is within the latter – the triumph of the Jews over the surrounding nations – that there come perhaps the most-quoted  verses of this book of the Old Testament: “your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey …  he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (9:9-10).  That is because Jesus was seen to fulfil them, probably quite deliberately, when he entered the city the week before he was crucified.  Those who thought of the whole context of Zechariah’s message may have been encouraged to think in terms of military strength, but these verses are actually about God’s ultimate purpose of achieving peace on earth.


Earlier, we read the following: “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (8:4-5).  Again, this is a vision of a peaceful city, one in which its most vulnerable citizens (the old and the young) can live without fear.  Even in our societies today we are far from achieving that. It is more common for the old to live in “sheltered” accommodation as much for their safety as for the nursing care they may need, and for children to be kept indoors for fear of assault or abduction, than for them to be able to sit or play unsupervised in the street.


So was the prophecy a false one?  No, but it has always been the understanding of the Christian church that only when Jesus comes a second time in glory will true peace be established.  Zechariah seems to have foreseen that too, for in the last chapter his prophecy becomes ever more apocalyptic (telling of the last days), when the mountains near Jerusalem would split in two to allow the citizens to escape from a coming disaster, after which “the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him … And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” (14:5,9).


The Bible in a Year – 12 May

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12 May. Isaiah chapters 59-63

Towards the end of this book of prophecy, the style becomes ‘apocalyptic’. Which does not mean it is all about terror and vengeance (though there is some of that, in chapters 59 and 63).  But like other apocalyptic works in the Bibles such as Daniel and Revelation, there seems to be a conflating of the way God was working in the prophet’s own time, and what will happen at the end of history, the day of judgement.  Some of the descriptions of ‘Zion’ here refer to the earthly Jerusalem, being rebuilt by those who had returned from Babylon.   Some are clearly references to the future Kingdom of God when day and night have ceased to be, and God himself is the light of his people.  That is the vision of St John at the very end of the Bible, and Isaiah caught it too.


We see more clearly than ever now that when God comes to rescue his people from either external oppression or their own sins, whether in the ‘here and now’ or at the final judgement, he will restore ‘justice’ (more than legalism, rather fairness, wholeness and harmony), a word that occurs throughout Isaiah and especially in these chapters. At those times, two things always happen: those who are open to God’s justice and have repented of their sins will experience his coming with joy and a sense of liberation.  And those who have resisted justice and ignored God, and have let sin take over their lives, will experience it as terrible judgement – God “treading the grapes of wrath” (63:3, one of those well-known quotations that I had not realised was from the Bible until I came across it here).  There is no chance given at that time to change sides – we will be judged on our relationship with God as it has been until this moment.  That is why there are many verses in the Bible along the lines of “now is the day of salvation” or “seek the Lord while he is near”. The old billboard sign “repent, for the end is nigh” may be a simplistic and in many ways negative way of summarising the Gospel message, but it is still true.


In between these two visions – of the rebuilt worldly city of Jerusalem and several centuries of prosperity, and the final day of judgement – comes Jesus.  Of course he is not named here, except in the sense that his very name Yeshua means something like ‘God saves’, which is a good summary of these chapters.  But it is recorded by Luke that at Jesus’ first sermon following his baptism in the Spirit, he read the beginning of chapter 61 of Isaiah (“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed …”) and told people that it was being fulfilled even as they listened.  He knew that he was the Messiah, the suffering servant that Isaiah had seen in his visions, and that his role was indeed to bring in the “year of the Lord’s favour” in anticipation of the end times when justice would finally be brought to bear.


So, if you have not already turned to Jesus, now is the time to do so, to experience the day of God’s favour, and be ready for when he comes again in glory.