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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Was it the End of Days or the Beginning of a New World Order? Or both?

We're up to the final study in Daniel now, with prophecies that might be apocalyptic - end of days - or might just herald a new world order - the New Testament world. What do you think? Enjoy.

(53) The End of Days and the Start of a New World Order

Critics believe Daniel’s vision moves toward end-times prophecy at Daniel 11:35. Many Jews believe the king in verse 36 is the Antichrist. Many Christians agree, viewing this as prophecy of Christ’s return, matching the destruction of the image in chapter 2 and the destruction of the horn in chapter 7 (Daniel 2:44-45, Daniel 7:11-14).
1.       Read Daniel 11:36-39
a.       Who or what do you imagine as you read this?
b.      What might be a god of fortresses?
c.       What is the king’s attitude to God or gods?
d.      What is his attitude to women (The one desired of women is sometimes translated women’s desires)?
2.       Read Daniel 11:40-41. Given where Israel is, how many directions might it be under attack from?
3.       Read Daniel 11:41-45
a.       Who wins, and how?
b.      If God was in charge of all the ups and downs of the historical battles foreseen by Daniel, who do we believe is in charge now?
c.       What difference should that make to our social and political stances?
4.       Read Daniel 12:1-4
a.       Which angel spoke to Daniel earlier? Is he the angel of Israel?
b.      Who is Michael?
c.       Read Zechariah 13:8, Deuteronomy 4:30, Jeremiah 30:7 What will the last days be like?
d.      Is there life after death in the Old Testament?
e.      Who might you describe as running to and fro (or going here and there) today?
5.       Daniel wants to know, just as before, when this will happen, and scholars have run to and fro trying to understand the answer ever since.
a.       Read Daniel 12:5-7. What might a time (one), times (two) and half a time (totally 3½ times) mean, remembering how important seven is?
b.      And we’re back to mathematics. Read Daniel 12:8-11
                                                                                       i.       How many years (of 360 days each) is 1290 days?
                                                                                     ii.      1260 would be 3½ years, which would be much more convenient. Would it help if you add 30, from Jesus’ birth to his death?
                                                                                    iii.      Read Daniel 12:12 What about the number 1335? We have to add 45 to 1290 this time. Is it the time to the destruction of the Temple?
                                                                                   iv.      But these interpretations all look to Jesus’ life and death. What might the numbers mean to us?
                                                                                     v.      Does this lend credence to the theory that God would have wound up the world in Jesus’ day if his people had accepted him?
6.       Here’s some more history, because if you’re anything like me, you want to know what happened next (and why we haven’t just interpreted the rest of Daniel’s vision the same way as the earlier parts):
a.       Judas Maccabees dedicates the altar in 164BC. He dies in 160BC (which is where we stop interpreting Daniel’s visions through historical references). Judas is succeeded  by his son, Jonathan.
                                                                                       i.       What sort of future would the Jews be expecting at this point?
b.      Rome fights Carthage and defeats Corinth around 150BC
c.       Jonathan is murdered and his brother Simon takes his in 140BC
                                                                                       i.       Does this surprise us? Should it? Do you suppose it surprised the Jews to see things go wrong?
d.      Hyrcanus (priest leader) destroys the Samaritan temple in 129BC
e.      Aristobulus (Hyrcanus son, priest and king) conquers Galilee; the Saducees support Jannaeus (a younger son of Hyrcanus), while the Pharisees rebel; then Jannaeus’ widow becomes Queen of Israel in 76BC
                                                                                       i.       Do our churches and denominations ever take political stances in opposition to each other?
                                                                                     ii.       Should we?
f.        Aristobulos II, supported by the Saduccees, seizes power
                                                                                       i.       Should we expect it to be a good thing when religious influence succeeds in getting someone into power?
                                                                                     ii.       Should we expect God to bless our political assumptions?
g.       Jerusalem is under siege again in 65BC, with Hyrcanus the priest leading the attack
h.      Pompey conquers the Syrians in 64BC
i.         Gaius Octavius, later known as Augustus Caesar is born in 63BC
j.        Hyrcanus II becomes High Priest in 63BC
k.       Julius Caesar defeats Pompey and becomes leader of Rome in 48BC
l.         Herod the Great becomes governor of Galilee in 47BC
m.    Caesar is assassinated in 44BC. Octavius, Mark Anthony and Marcus Lepidus rule Rome
n.      Herod the Great becomes ruler of Judea too in 40BC
o.      Herod the Great becomes King of Judea in 37BC, and remains in charge till he dies in 4BC
                                                                                       i.      Do any of these names and events surprise you?
                                                                                     ii.      Does putting the story into historical context help us understand Daniel?
                                                                                    iii.      Does putting the story into political context help us learn from Daniel?
                                                                                   iv.      Does putting the story into spiritual context help us draw closer to God?
The last of our prophets is John the Baptist, born like Samuel to a mother who longed for a child.
1.       Read Luke 1:5-7,13-17 Some people say Elijah will also return before the end-times. What would you think if someone told you “I am Elijah”? What makes us believe and doubt, and how can we be “sure”?
2.       Read Luke 1:39-45 How is the unborn baby so sure?
3.       Read Luke 1:67-79 Who is making this prophesy? Can a prophet doubt? Can a doubter prophesy?
4.       Read Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1 Do you think John knows his Bible references? Do you?
5.       Read Luke 3:10-14 What matters to God?
6.       Read Matthew 3:15-17 What is the relationship between Jesus and John?
7.       Read John 3:22-30. How willing are we to decrease in God’s name?
8.       Read Matthew 11:2-15. Who is Jesus? Who is John?
9.       Read Matthew 14:1-12 John doesn’t get to say anything at the end. Can a prophet be silenced?

10.   Can we be prophets?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Were Daniel's Visions Historical?

Daniel's final vision contains a lot of history... and some things that we haven't yet managed to interpret as historical. Here's some of the history. The next study just might move into the future... or not...

(52) Daniel and History

Daniel’s 4th vision contains a lot of history… does that mean the vision is no longer relevant?
Just to recap:
1.       Daniel 7 takes place during Babylon’s decline, presents a statue representing 4 kingdoms – Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greek, then ten-toed Rome (like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2)
2.       Daniel 8, taking place under Medo-Persian rule, represents kingdoms with animals and horns, predicting the quartering of Greece’s empire and offering hope for the days of Antiochus Epiphanes.
3.       Daniel’s fourth vision begins toward the end of the exile (though Daniel will remain at the Persian court). Here’s where he learns what’s written in the Book of Truth…
Read Daniel 11:1-4. Cyrus II is the ruler at the time of the prophecy. Four future kings are
1.       Cambyses (529-522BC, Pseudo-Smerdis (522-521BC), Darius I Hystaspes (521-486BC Read Ezra 5:5)
2.       and Xerxes I (486-465BC Read Ezra 4:6) who attacked Greece and failed miserably.
3.       Then (verse 3) Alexander the Great arises, leaving a kingdom split in four when he dies.
a.       Why might Alexander not be dismayed to hear his kingdom will split?
b.      What sort of comfort do we want for our families’ futures?
c.       How do we react if we feel like God’s giving us that comfort? Or if we feel like he isn’t?
4.       What extra information is given in this vision besides what Daniel already knew?(Read Daniel 8:20-22)
Read Daniel 11:5-8 South of Israel is Egypt (Ptolemy) and North is Syria (Seluecid). North of both is Greece.
1.       Together Ptolemy and Seleucid defeat Antigonus leaving the Seluecids in control. Who is really in control?
a.       Who is really in control of our world?
b.      Who does the world say is in control?
2.       Berenice of Egypt marries Antiochus II (Seleucid) around 250BC (He had to divorce Laodice first)
a.       The Middle Ages saw similar divorces and remarriages among royal families. Is all that “in the past”?
3.       When Ptolemy dies, Antiochus breaks the alliance, returning to his first wife who responds by killing him, Berenice and their child!
a.       We like to imagine the past as uncivilized and the present as being different. Is that really the case?
b.      Is it more important to be civilized or to be faithful?
4.       Then Ptolemy III (a relative of Berenice) conquers the north and takes hostages.
5.       Judea will be fought over by one army after another.
a.       Do you think the people understood the prophecy before the wars?
b.      Do you think it began to make sense during the wars?
c.       Do you think we should strive to understand prophecy or wait for God’s timing?
Read Daniel 11:9-14
1.       Seluecus (N) fails in an attack on Egypt (S) but his successors do better, especially Antiochus III (verse 11)
2.       This rouses Egypt and two armies of 70,000 each meet in 217BC. Egypt wins and takes hostages (verse 12) Antiochus escapes.
a.       How many times has Egypt appeared as a big player in Jewish history?
b.      Why is Egypt important in Christian history?
c.       Why is Egypt still important? Does God care about geography?
3.       Antiochus (North) conquers as far East as India, amasses large armies, and attacks Egypt again. Many Jews join his force (verse 14)
a.       Do you suppose those Jews thought they were working for or against God?
b.      When might we be tempted to take action for God rather than waiting for God?
c.       How can we tell when we’re being tempted to make that mistake? Does prophecy help?
Read Daniel 11:15-26
1.       The Egyptian leader Scopas is captured and imprisoned in Sidon. Three Egyptian armies fails to get him back (verse 15)
2.       But Rome is rising, so Antiochus marries his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy V Epiphanes in 192BC (verse 17)
3.       Antiochus treats the Roman ambassadors badly (verse 18) then tries to expand his territory by attacking Greece at Thermopylae (191BC) and then near Ephesus (189BC) where the Roman general Scipio defeats him (verse 19)
a.       Does this sound like modern politics?
4.       The next king, being subject to Rome, has to impose oppressive taxes to raise the tribute (verse 20).
5.       He dies, possibly poisoned, just after issuing an order to plunder the Temple (verse 20)
6.       And his successor is the dreaded Antiochus IV Epiphanes (glorious), who gains the throne through intrigue. (verse 21-24)
a.       A lot of this history is given in Maccabees, which isn’t generally accepted in our Bibles. Does that mean we shouldn’t be reading it?
7.       One story suggests the Jews poisoned the ruler to protect the Temple (verse 26).
a.      Is God more pleased by our intent to help Him, or our desire to be used by Him?
Read Daniel 11:27-35
1.       Antiochus suffers broken treaties with Egypt, and takes out his frustrations on Israel. (verse 28)
2.       Rome forces Antiochus to give up Egypt (verse 30) meeting him at Alexandria with ships from Cyprus.
3.       Antiochus pollutes the Temple altar with a pig and puts up an abominable idol (probably Zeus) (verse 31, read Matthew 24:15, Daniel 8:23-25)
a.       What might be the connection between Antiochus’ abomination and Jesus’ mention of it?
b.      Is Antiochus the only person to have polluted the altar?
c.       Where is God’s Temple now, and what pollutes its altar?
4.       Thousands die in the persecution of the Jews.
a.       Does this prefigure Roman persecution and the destruction of the Temple?

b.      Does it prefigure the end times? (verse 35)

Monday, October 9, 2017

How Long is a Year? More studies in Daniel

The new year started and we went back into Daniel, hoping to finish our study of the prophets soon. Since this study will end with John the Baptist - an appropriate book-end with Samuel - we've decided to move straight into a Chronological study of the Gospels next. But first, here are the last few studies from the prophets - with all their attendant numerical and apocalyptical complexities.

(51) Daniel’s Numbers

Daniel is often remembered for obscure visions and strange numbers. We’ve already looked at how important symbolic numbers can be in prophesy—3 for God’s certainty, 2 for man’s trust, 4 for the earth, 7 for God’s plan, 10 for man’s counting, 12 for God’s choice… But Daniel uses real numbers too—360 days in a year, 7 days in a week, etc. Going back to Daniel’s vision of Alexander and the history to follow him…

Read Daniel 8:11-14
1.       A mathematical question. A generic year was 360 days long. How many years is 2,300 days?

2.       There are lots of different interpretations of Daniel’s 2,300 days.
a.       One suggests that the Temple will be defiled when the high priest is killed in 171BC, and restored when Antiochus Epiphanes dies in 164BC.
                                                                                       i.      Do you think the people would have been encouraged by this interpretation in the time of the Maccabees?

                                                                                     ii.      Do you think God intends the prophecy to be encouraging or confusing?

                                                                                    iii.      Do you think God intends the prophecy to be applicable to all times and places?

b.      Interpreting days as years meant the world was going to end in 1844. Does this remind you of end-times arguments about the millennium?

Daniel looks for an explanation of the vision and talks with an angel again.
1.       Read Daniel 8:16 Where else do we know Gabriel from? (Read Daniel 9:21, Luke 1:19,26)

2.       What do we think of when we hear Gabriel’s name? (In Hebrew, it  might be a play on words, meaning one like a man)?

3.       Who might the one telling Gabriel to speak?

Read Daniel 8:17,19 The angel mentions the time of the end. Does this mean the end times, or the end of Israel’s punishment under Antiochus Epiphanes?

3.       Some interpretations use Antiochus as an image or precursor of the anti-Christ. Do you think we’re meant to know for sure, now? Should Christians argue over interpretations?

4.       What general message do you get for difficult times from Daniel’s vision?

Daniel’s fourth vision takes place after the Babylonians have been conquered. He’s still working at court, working for the Medo-Persian empire. And Jeremiah’s 70 years have passed – it’s time for God’s people to go home.
1.       Read Daniel 9:1-6. Daniel confesses “our” sins even though he’s not guilty of them.
a.       How willing are we to confess other people’s sins as our own?

b.      When we Read Romans 1:18,21,24  do we emphasize the sins of others or our own failure to glorify God?

2.       Read Daniel 9:18-19 Are we called by His name?

3.       Read Daniel 9:20-23. Another vision is coming. Read Daniel 9:24-27
a.       Why might 70 be on Daniel’s mind? (Read Jeremiah 25:11)

b.      What do you think might be the significance of 70? (symbolic numbers, average lifetime…?)

                                                                                       i.       Jeremiah’s 70 years could be from the fall of Jerusalem to the rebuilding (66) or dedication (71) of the Temple, or from Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus (various numbers). Does it worry you if it’s not precise?

c.       What might be the significance of weeks instead of years? (Read Matthew 18:22)

d.      What “command” do you think might be the starting point for “calculating” the years?

                                                                                       i.      Some use Cyrus decree. Others use the decree issued in Nehemiah’s time to rebuild the city. Given how hard it is to “calculate” Jeremiah’s 70 years, does there have to be a “right” answer?

e.      7 weeks and 62 weeks might represent 49 years to clean up the rubble and rebuild the city under Nehemiah, and 434 years to the Messiah… but years are only 360 days long, which leads to a Messiah in 32AD… but the crucifixion might be in 30AD… Is all this really about counting precise numbers?

f.        Which leads to the final week of years. Cutting off the Messiah must have been a strange idea to Daniel who looks forward to welcoming a Messiah.  What strangely unlikely events has God done in your life?

g.       Who might the people of the prince who is to come be, if the Messiah invites Gentiles into his kingdom? And what did the Romans do to Jerusalem?

h.      Read Matthew 14:15-21. What do you think Jesus meant?

In the reign of Cyrus, with the Jews about to return, Daniel has another vision
1.       Read Daniel 10:1-3 Is this going to be a nice message?

2.       Read Daniel 10:4-6 Who does Daniel see? (Read Revelation 1:14-16. This probably happens just after Passover)

3.       Read Daniel 10:7-11 Does this remind you of Paul?

4.       Read Daniel 10:12,2-3 How does Daniel end up being the person to speak with angels?

5.       Read Daniel 10:13-14.
a.       What was happening to the Jews at this time (Read Ezra 4:1-5)?

b.      Why isn’t Daniel with them (instead he’s near the Tigris – still working for the “the enemy.”)?

c.       Why does this make it more plausible to non-believers that Daniel’s a real person?

6.       Read Daniel 10:8,15,17 How many times is Daniel overcome? Who else does that remind you of?

7.       Read Daniel 10:20-21 What do you think is meant by “The Scripture of Truth”? How might it differ from Scripture?