By Caleb Faires
We are all fascinated by the end times. The proliferation of post-apocalyptic films and literature, and the numerous theories, interpretations, and speculations regarding books of end-times prophecy, raptures, judgments, and visions are everywhere. And, the end times are not a fascination merely of Christian culture, but of all cultures—from the Ragnarok of the vikings, to the promise of global warming, environmental doom, and nuclear self-destruction preached in the present—we want to know how it all ends. Knowing the end is part of knowing the present. We know ourselves now both by the record of the past and the hope or fear of the future.
Of course, our knowledge is limited. We’d like to have a clear timeline, a chart with breakdowns of all the specifics. Remarkably, that is very much what we find in Daniel 8. Daniel is given not only a spectacular vision of the future, but also a specific interpretation: “the vision refers to the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17). Yet at the end, we are told he still “could not understand it” (v.27). This is the same response we see in Jesus’s disciples when He very specifically explained His coming death, resurrection, and ascension. Every time, no matter how clearly the matter was imparted, those who received the foretelling could not understand. And so it is with us. Even when God gives us everything we need to know, we’re still left scratching our heads.
But that is part of the good news. God does not do His work according to human wisdom or to suit human wishes. He does not deliver His message to cater to our curiosity. He delivers to us a clear revelation of His nature, His character, His sovereign providence—and calls us to simply walk in it. We don’t have to understand everything. We are called to simply trust Him.
And that trust is not misplaced. The events foretold to Daniel in this vision of the ram and the goat would not take place for another 350 years, yet they happened with the rise and fall of the Medo-Persian empire, the ascension of Alexander the Great and the division of his kingdom, followed by the abominations of Antiochus Epiphanes.
While this 20/20 hindsight doesn’t fully satisfy our desire for apocalyptic insight, it is also not the main point of scriptural prophecy. Prophetic interpretation, even for Daniel, was never designed to boost pride. It was and always is about God’s work in the world. And while our initial understanding is dim, the end point of biblical eschatology is always optimistic. The angel that appeared to Daniel assured him that all these things would come to pass by God’s own righteous decree, and “not by human hands” (Daniel 8:25). In the same way, Christ spoke to His disciples of the end times, saying, “Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Though we may, like Daniel, be “overcome and sick for days” when we look at the state of the world, and wonder how it can all possibly come to good, we are called to remember that our good and righteous God is at work. Therefore, we can rise like Daniel, and go about the business that God has set before us. We can be of good courage, knowing that the end of the story is not the triumph of wickedness, but the victory of Christ. We can take heart, because it does not depend upon us, but upon God, who is at work in time, in space, in history, and will guide the present and the future as He has guided the past. Though the world may appear to be upended by affliction, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, and danger, in all these things we are more than conquerors in Christ who rules and reigns forever (Romans 8:37–39).
Written by Caleb Faires