A Christmas Song to Melt your Heart

In my last post I wrote about dealing with Christmas stress. If you’re one of those people, here’s a great way you can un-stress. It’s a song from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Christmas Album, Joy: An Irish Christmas.

Find somewhere quiet in your house, read these lyrics slowly and then play the video. It will melt your heart.

Jesus, joy of the highest heaven,
Born as a little baby
Under a wondrous star.
Like us, crying he takes His first breath
Held by His mother, helpless
Close to her beating heart.
Jesus, laid in a lowly manger,
Facing a world of dangers,
Come to turn me a stranger
Into a child of God.

Jesus, King of the highest heaven
Learning to take His first steps,
That He might bring us life.
Like us, knowing our smiles and sorrows,
He showed the way to follow,
A way that is true and right.
Jesus, take away every darkness,
Steady my simple footsteps
That I might in your goodness
Live as a child of God.

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Coping with Christmas Stress

Every year I make a promise to myself that it won’t happen again. I won’t get stressed and overtired, I won’t work so hard, and I won’t feel obliged to attend every Christmas party I’m invited to. And every year I fail. Here we are, less than a week away from Christmas and I’m so exhausted I hardly know what day it is.

How did I get here… yet again? What am I doing wrong?

Perhaps it’s because of my job: I’m a Pastor. I’m sure that has something to do with it. And I’m a people-pleaser; I don’t like saying no. But then what am I supposed to say “no” to? The lovely seniors in my church, who invited me to their special Christmas afternoon tea? I don’t get opportunities like this often. How could I turn them down?

Christmas “High Tea” with our seniors

End-of-year BBQ with the Staff Team

Or what about the end-of-year BBQ for our home group leaders? Someone needs to thank them for all the hard work they are doing. And then there’s the end of year Staff dinner. That’s our A-Team. That’s a no-brainer. I need to be there. And then there’s my wife’s end-of-year BBQ with her fellow teachers. I can hardly send her off for the night on her own. And then there’s the Youth Leaders end-of-year dinner (that, by the way, was one I did pull out of, and then felt quite badly for it).

I don’t begrudge having to go to these things. I love all these people. They are the ones that make our church such a great place that it is. The problem is the timing. Because on top of these events there is all the other end-of-year deadlines: Christmas to prepare for, accommodation to sort out (for out-of-town family members), lights to put up, a Christmas tree to fetch, presents to buy, thank you cards to write, Christmas sermons to prepare, lawns to mow, gas bottles to refill and…and…and.

That’s enough to send anyone to a care facility – or at least prescribe sedatives to. No wonder it’s called the “silly season.” Meanwhile, Jesus gets left somewhere under the tree, or with the other discarded decorations, in the Christmas box.

That’s not silly, nor is it even funny. It’s tragic.

Think about it; the most incredible event that has ever happened in the history of mankind: the One who spoke this universe into existence and who dwells in unapproachable light; the One who knows the end from the beginning and whose presence fills all heaven and earth – this glorious One, this Holy and omnipotent One, takes on human flesh and enters our world as a helpless little baby.

Charles Wesley captures this in his 18th-century hymn “Let earth and Heaven combine”:

Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the loved Immanuel’s name

See in that infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labour while ye gaze
To sound the mystery:
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.

Something so wonderful and profound as this demands our attention, our devotion, and our worship.

Sadly, it often gets neither – at least, not from me.

One might argue that we don’t need to wait until Christmas in order to give attention to the incarnation. That’s true. But at the same time, I think it is a crying shame that at the one time in the year when it receives public recognition (albeit grudgingly for some), many of us are too tired and stressed to enjoy it.

I’m not too sure what the answer is for my dilemma, apart from moving Christmas to another part of the year – say, like June 25th. But I don’t think our northern hemisphere friends will appreciate that! Or I could go somewhere in the world where things are quiet and less stressful; a place where no one knows me, for a more spiritual, meditative Christmas.

But then I think I would miss another vital aspect of Christmas that is often overlooked: becoming like the One we love and adore and giving ourselves for others. This truth is wonderfully captured by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

There it is. There’s my motivation for enduring anxiety and weariness and stress at Christmas. I have a wonderful opportunity to be like my Saviour and give myself for others. So, I will endure the long days, the pressures, the busy schedule, the Christmas functions and end-of-year parties, not for my own sake, but for others. There are fellow believers that need to be loved and served and unbelievers that need to be reached out to. Here’s the one time in the year when we actually have a good excuse to talk to people about Jesus or invite them to an event or give them a little booklet that just may lead them to their own discovery of eternal life.

After all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

A Nation’s Grief

It’s been a heart-wrenching week for our nation. When the news came out that a young British backpacker had gone missing in Auckland and the Police were concerned for her safety, we all feared the worst. A few days later we heard the words no parent wants to hear: a body had been found. Grace was dead. She had been murdered. She wouldn’t be going home.

Since then came an outpouring of grief rarely seen in this country. There have been vigils, flowers, tributes, as well as countless messages of love and sympathy to the family. Crowds in their thousands turned up in cities across the country – Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin to grieve and remember a beautiful young woman whose life had been cruelly taken.

“Grace was not born here and only managed to stay a few weeks, but you have taken her to your hearts and in some small way she will forever be a Kiwi.” – David Millane, Grace’s father.

Her death has also served to highlight the domestic violence problem in this country. New Zealand has some of the worst statistics for sexual abuse and violence against women in the OECD. On average, Police attend a domestic violence call-out every 5 minutes. For a country of 4.7 million, that is unacceptable. We cannot continue to shrug this off – not while women are being mistreated and abused.

If you are a Christian reading this, you have a unique opportunity – while it’s still raw, to speak into this. When it comes to the big issues of day, the one’s that everyone is talking about, Christians are often silent. Then they make a fuss about things nobody cares about (a generalization, but true nonetheless). That sends an unspoken message to the world: our faith has nothing to say on the things that matter. We need to reverse that.

Here are some simple and respectful ways you can engage with those in the world with regard to Grace’s murder:

1. Feel their pain

This is where we must start. If you don’t start here, you don’t earn any right to speak. People are hurting. They are hurting for Grace. They are hurting for Grace’s family in the UK. And they are hurting for all women who have been taken advantage of and abused throughout the years in our nation. You need to enter into this hurt and truly feel it.

This is what Jesus did. He didn’t lecture people about morals and ethics or give simplistic answers to complex problems. Often, when encountering grieving people (as with Mary and Martha, who were utterly bereft over the loss of their brother Lazarus), he didn’t say anything. He grieved with them. He felt their pain.

Grace could have been any one’s daughter or sister or close friend. What if it were my daughter who had been murdered? It’s an unbearable thought. But I must think about it, if I am to enter into another person’s grief. That’s what thousands of kiwis have done in attending the numerous vigils up and down the country. Our grief should be no less. Take Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who is heading up the case, as an example. When he appeared on camera where the body was found, he didn’t need to say anything. His face said it all. He cared enough to attend one of the many vigils and stood with the crowd. He didn’t just investigate Grace’s death, he felt it. We would do well to take a feather from his cap.

2. Share their outrage

A moral outrage has been committed. The life of another human being has been taken. And yes, this happens daily, and it is easy to dismiss this one death as there are thousands of other innocent deaths taking place in the world. But we cannot. We must not. The death of every single individual matters because human life matters.

Human life especially matters to God. He made it, and he has ownership of it. Therefore, God is also outraged by Grace’s death. Grace was made in his image and likeness. She displayed – as with all human beings, God-like attributes such as love and mercy and goodness and kindness and wisdom and truthfulness. Grace’s life was sacred, as all human life is sacred. This is why God forbids murder (Exodus 20:13; Romans 13:9). So then, the Christian ought to be even more outraged by Grace’s death, not less.

Furthermore, God is not passive or unresponsive in his outrage. He both condemns and demands justice for murder. He has given laws forbidding murder and will not let murder, or any other sin, off the hook (Numbers 14:18). He has instituted government and civil authorities, which do not bear the sword for no reason (Romans 13:3-4), to punish murder and other wrongdoing, thereby preventing acts of personal revenge. The reason we even have a justice system and police and prison cells is because God is the One who has put them there – for his glory and our good.

And here’s something you might want people to consider: where does this sense of moral outrage come from? And what is it based on? If human beings are simply products of an evolutionary process – time plus energy plus matter; if such things as love and hate and hope and despair are caused merely by atoms and molecules banging into each other, why moral outrage? Why get upset about anything? If we came from nowhere and are going nowhere; if there is no accountability in the afterlife, who is to say anything is evil or anything is good?

We see then ample room for Christians to dialogue with others on this matter.

3. Give them hope

This is what I really wanted to get to. Christianity has something to offer to people who are experiencing great pain that no other religion or philosophy or worldview can offer: HOPE. And that hope is found in the cross. The cross is God’s answer to all pain and suffering and death and loss.

People are dying every day. In fact, they are dying every second. They are not supposed to be dying. That is not the way God intended things to be. But Adam, our first father, sinned by rebelling against God and because we are his spiritual offspring, we by nature also sin. The bible says wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), so we must all die. But God, in his kindness and mercy, provided a way out of this. He sent his own Son, in the likeness of humanity to die a torturous death on a cross and atoned for our sin. Then three days later he rose from the dead, overcoming sin’s curse. Now all who trust in him have their sin forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. Death no longer has a claim on them. They will raise to new life.

This gives us hope. It provides hope for those who are suffering, hope for the cancer patient, and hope for the grieving father or mother.

The cross not only give us hope, it also gives us peace. Because with the cross God demonstrated to the world that he takes sin seriously. It must be punished, and it will be punished – either in two ways: by Jesus on the cross or by the individual sinner when he or she faces God after death. Either way, they are paid. No sin – no matter how big or small, is overlooked. Every single one is accounted for.

That grants peace to the one who is suffering unjustly. They can leave it all in the hands of a righteous and holy God, who will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). That means Grace’s parents, should they come to understand and believe this, can eventually find peace. It also means Grace’s murderer, should he repent of his wicked crime and put his trust in Christ, can find peace. Everyone finds peace at the cross – the murderer, the sufferers and the victim alike.

That’s what makes the cross so powerful. Nothing else matches it in its ability to completely transform the human heart and bring about forgiveness and reconciliation.

People might not like the answer that Christianity gives to the “why” of suffering and death. But it’s sure better than the one they don’t have.

Joy to the World

How do you go about sharing the most incredible, amazing and mind-blowing message to those who don’t know about it, or don’t want to know about it, or are in some way confused by it?

That’s the question we’ve been chewing over at our staff meetings over the past couple of weeks. There are people in our community who are in desperate need of a Saviour. We have the answer to their need. Jesus, God’s Son came into this world as a baby, lived a perfect life we could never live, died on the cross for our sins and rose again three days later. All those who put their trust in him receive eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.

That’s the gospel – the good news in a nutshell. It’s incredible. It’s amazing. And God wants it broadcasted to the world – anyway we can.

But how do we get this message through to people who need it? Well, that’s where Christians need to get their thinking caps on. How we communicate this message is everything.

We need to make it attractive but not deceptive
We want to be truthful but not complicated
We need to make it simple but not simplistic
We want to be serious but not solemn
We want to be earnest but not overbearing

It’s a fine balancing act in the shopping-mad, Santa-saturated culture we live in and we need all the wisdom and skill and shrewdness and creative ability we can get (fortunately, we have God on our side and he lacks none of these attributes!)

This year we are putting on a Christmas Eve service for our community (two services in fact, back-to-back as last year we had difficulty fitting everyone in). We’ll have traditional carols, a special item and a short message that communicates the gospel clearly, cleanly and meaningfully.

We went hunting for Christmas tracts online that would be suitable to put on every chair for our Christmas Eve service. The same tract would serve as a tool for our people to hand out to people in everyday conversations leading up to Christmas. But we couldn’t find anything suitable. So Rochelle, our very astute administrator, decided she would write one (without me knowing it). Then she sent it to me via email. As soon as I read it, I knew it had potential – like real potential. I put the whole staff team on it and it went through a number of drafts and corrections. Finally, we got it to a point where we were happy with it. Here’s how it looks (click on the image to enlarge):

There are a few things different about this tract than others we’ve used:

  • It has only one main bible verse. We think that’s all you need. Often tracts are too complicated. You don’t find Jesus quoting four or five parts of the bible when he’s making a point. He keeps things simple.
  • We didn’t use the usual bible citation Christians are used to (e.g. “John 1:14”). This is for people who are NOT familiar with the bible.
  • We didn’t use spiritual jargon. When there’s a word not used in everyday speech (like “sin”), we have a little definition in a side box.
  • We’ve used large font with plenty of white space. Many tracts have small font that looks more like something from a history book. That’s a put-off for a start.

It’s by no means perfect and no doubt it will go through some renditions as time goes on. But it will do for what we need right now.

Most importantly, it contains truth that can lead people to a right relationship with God. And who knows – maybe there will be someone, just one person, who reads this and finds true joy for the very first time.

This is Rochelle, our administrator, a highly skilled individual with a love for God and God’s people. On top of answering phones and helping out at the desk, she teaches bible, disciples young women, writes curriculum and now – gospel tracts as well! Our staff team wouldn’t know where we would be without her. 

 

War in the Heavenlies

Growing up I was taught that there was only one reality and that was the physical realm. All of life – the planets and the stars and plants and people – they are all just atoms and molecules and energy. Even human thought and consciousness is just subatomic particles banging into each other. There is no God or Satan. There is no heaven or hell. It’s all a myth.

When I became a Christian, that whole thing got blown out of the water. I learned there was a spiritual dimension to life that operates in continuity with the natural world. This dimension is invisible to the human eye, so most people don’t believe it exists. Not only does it exist, but the events in the physical are shaped by what is going on in the spiritual realm.

This means the majority of people see only a fraction of what is really going on in the world. They turn on the 6’oclock news and hear about what’s going on with the European Union or about the latest trade embargo and they think they are well informed. But they only know half of it. Behind all of this there is a cosmic struggle between forces of good and evil. All around us there are powerful spiritual beings are locked in a kind of mortal combat – the kingdom of darkness at war against the kingdom of light.

There’s a place in the Bible where the curtain is pulled back, just a fraction and we get a view of this. Daniel is praying and fasting over the discouraging events that had transpired with his people. A decree had been issued by the King of Persia allowing the Israelites to return and rebuild the temple. Only a portion returned and when they got there, they were harassed, they were mocked, they were scorned, and finally another decree was issued, and the work came to a halt altogether.

While he is praying, he is interrupted by a heavenly messenger – an angel, says to him,

“Don’t be afraid, Daniel… for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.” (Daniel 10:12)

So why has it taken so long for this angel to come? Why the delay? He gives the answer:

“The prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” (v.13)

Who is this prince of Persia? Persia was the kingdom ruling at that time. The human leader was Cyrus. So who is this? This is a spiritual being – a high ranking demon. He is one of Satan’s emissaries, and his job is to control and order the affairs of Persia so they work against the plans and purposes of God. He’s trying to stop God from carrying out his plan.

Satan has an incredibly clever organization. There was a demon assigned to Persia. Later in verse 20 the angel says there’s a demon assigned to Greece. That means there must also be demonic beings attached to countries today such as China and North Korea and America. There are demonic beings attached to this country and its government. They are busy at work influencing the affairs in the beehive and our universities and our schools. And they are doing everything to thwart the purposes of God and particularly the advance of the gospel and the growth and vitality of his church.

Personally, I found all this be a real wake-up call. We really are in a war. And I, as a Pastor, am likely to be a target. So what does this mean for all of us? What significance does all this have on our personal lives as well as the lives of those around us? I have five things:

1. There is more angelic and demonic activity in this world than we know

There is more demonic control and influence among world governments than we realize. When you are watching the 6’oclock news, realize there are spiritual forces in the heavenlies at work in the events you are seeing. There are demons assigned to world leaders, countries and continents. There is a supernatural cause behind every effect.

2. Every Christian is involved in a great spiritual conflict

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in a war. You are in a cosmic battle, for the souls of men and women and the kingdom of God. Satan has demons assigned to nations, provinces and even churches. There is likely a demon assigned to your church or at least your area of churches. There are demons assigned to pastors and church leaders.

This is not a game. This is war. The eternal destiny of the souls of men and women and children depend on the faithful testimony and vitality of our lives. We are not here to make lots of money so we can live a comfortable life and retire eating ice cream on luxury cruise liners. We’re on a battlefield. And it’s time some of us woke up.

3. When we pray, we are setting ourselves in direct opposition to demonic activity in the world

When Daniel prayed for the discouraged returnees he was interceding on their behalf, and the answers to his prayers were greatly opposed by demonic forces. When we pray for God’s work, when we pray for missions, when we pray for the progress of our church when we pray for spiritual breakthroughs in the lives of others, we’re setting ourselves in direct opposition to Satan’s agenda. That’s why prayer is sometimes hard work. It requires discipline, commitment and perseverance.

4. Answers to prayer are sometimes delayed because of unseen spiritual warfare

It’s no accident that the messenger said that his struggle with the prince of Persia lasted exactly the same amount of time that Daniel’s fasting and prayer did —21 days. The reason for this is that the warfare in the spirit realm was being fought in a real sense by Daniel in the prayer realm. How all that work I don’t know. But we do know he wasn’t praying to angels. He was wrestling in prayer TO GOD for the things that were in line with God’s will for his people and for the world. We should do the same.

5. The prayers of God’s people can influence the events of history

Prayer is a powerful weapon. Mary Queen of Scots said that she feared the prayers of John Knox more than she feared an invading army. That should encourage us all to pray more shouldn’t it?

How is your prayer life?
Are regularly praying for the leaders of this country?
Do you pray for our politicians?
Are you praying for the nations in the 10/40 window?

There are several great prayer apps you can download. I use Operation World – it gives me one country to pray for per day. You might also want to check out Joshua Project which has you praying for one unreached people group per day. There are many other useful tools like this available.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. The most powerful demons are rendered powerless by the smallest child who prays in Jesus’ name.

Don’t underestimate your puny prayers. They are offered up to a powerful God.

This post was based on a sermon by the same title. It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

The Son of Man

Daniel 7 is one incredible chapter of the bible. It provides a grand vision of world history from the time of the Babylonian Empire until the full arrival of the kingdom of God. One commentator asserts, “Once convinced of the truth this chapter is proclaiming, the reader is in possession of the key to history.”

The chapter opens with a vision of a restless, raging sea. It is a picture of sinful humanity: unstable, dark, chaotic and in a constant state of unrest and turmoil. Then out of this sea come four huge beasts. The beasts represent nations at war with each other and in rebellion against God. The fourth beast is more terrifying than the other and incredibly strong, with iron teeth that devour and crush (verse 7). From it comes 10 horns, which represent powers or world leaders. Another horn, a little one came up from among them. It has eyes of a human and mouth that speaks arrogantly. His identity is revealed later in the chapter. He is the Antichrist, who wages war against God’s people and prevails over them (verses 21, 25).

But right in the centre of the chapter, Daniel is given another vision. He sees something of far greater significance. Daniel is given a vision of the throne room of God. It is from this throne that the sea and the beasts and the little horn are being controlled.

“As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire.” (Dan 7:9)

Up to this point God had been working behind the scenes, but now we see him in his splendour. Now we see who is in control of the universe. In the midst of chaos and havoc and impending disaster Daniel is shown that ultimate authority does not reside in Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome. It is in the hands of almighty God. And it’s the same today. Ultimate power is not centred in Moscow, London or Washington D.C. It’s in heaven.

His clothing was white like snow, symbolising his purity. The hair of his head is also white, “like pure wool” and his throne a flaming fire. It’s a picture of white-hot holiness. His throne is described as having wheels – always moving, never in one place. There is no place to hide from God; no place to escape his judgment.

Then, as Daniel watches, “the court was convened, and the book were opened” (verse 10). It’s a picture of final judgement. There is coming a day, at the end of history, when God will summon everybody to his courts. Daniel is seeing that day. The books will be opened. There in the books is a record of every thought, every word, and every action any of us have ever done. Everything, from the smallest individual act to the greatest of human atrocities is laid bare before the holy, pure and perfect God. This is the day of judgement. And it’s marked down on God’s heavenly calendar. It is not an appointment you can cancel, postpone or miss.

But the vision hasn’t finished yet. Daniel is shown more. We come now to some of the most famous verses of the bible, the vision of the Son of Man:

“I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven…” (Dan 7:13)

That term, “son of man” is used in the bible of humanity in general – Psalm 8, “what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you remember him” (v.4) and of the king of Israel in particular, such as in Psalm 80. But there is a different individual altogether pictured here.

“He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13–14)

This is no mere human figure. No man can approach the Ancient of Days. No mere mortal is given all dominion and glory and all peoples, nations and languages worship. This individual is both human and heavenly.

It should be of no surprise to us then, that the favourite title that the Lord Jesus used for himself and referred to it over and over again was the Son of Man. It should be of no surprise that Jesus would say to Nathaniel, who was shocked that Jesus knew every detail of his life,

“You will see greater things than these… Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)

Nor should it be a surprise when, at his trial, the high priest demanded Jesus to tell him if he was the Messiah, the Son of God, that Jesus would answer him,

“You have said it… But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt 26:64)

The Son of Man is none other than the Jesus Christ. He came into this world as a man and offered himself up in our place to die for our sin. After his death, was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead. Jesus told his disciples that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to him (Matt 28:28). And so he sends us into all the world, to make disciples of all nations, so that every nation, tongue, tribe and language group will give him the honour he deserves.

Conclusion

So, what should be our response to what we have learned today?

Firstly, let us make sure we belong to the right kingdom. Every living person belongs to one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of Satan or the kingdom of God. If you are living for yourself and for the things of this world, you are in the wrong kingdom. You need to turn to Jesus today, tell him you are sorry for your rebellion and sin, and trust him as your Saviour-King. Then you will be ready when he comes to reign as King over this world.

Secondly, let us aware that we are living in troubled times. The stage for all end-time events is being set and time is running out. This is not the time for God’s people to be at ease, enjoying the comforts of this world. It may not be long before the final battle between Satan and Christ. The door to God’s kingdom will then be shut. We cannot sit by and do nothing – not with souls of men and women heading for a lost eternity. Let us do everything we can to warn them and woo them into the kingdom. We must not spare any effort to get the job done.

And then thirdly, let us not worry about the changes that are taking place in our world today. Let us not give a toss about rising oil prices and climate changes. Let us not be fearful about earthquakes, tsunamis and terrorist attacks. God is on the throne. His Son Jesus has been given all dominion. We may face persecution and even death, but as Daniel himself was assured,

“The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” (Daniel 7:27)

This post was based on a sermon called “The Son of Man” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

70 weeks. 3 days. 1 message.

It’s the hardest passage of Scripture in the Bible. I’m betting my money on it. And I had a little over 3 days to try and figure it out and then teach it to my congregation.

I’m referring to Daniel 7:24-27, also known as “Daniel’s 70 Weeks”. These four short verses are some of the most difficult in the Old Testament and have provoked countless debates that show no sign of abating.

To add to my affliction, it is also the central text for dispensationalists[1]. This is where they get their 7-year tribulation, future temple and pre-tribulation rapture from. This passage is serves as the lynchpin for their entire system. I knew there were a number of those who would be sitting there on Sunday. And they would be watching to see what I would do with this.

Here’s the passage in its simplicity (how I wish):

Daniel 9:24–27 (CSB)

24 Seventy weeks are decreed
about your people and your holy city—
to bring the rebellion to an end,
to put a stop to sin,
to atone for iniquity,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to seal up vision and prophecy,
and to anoint the most holy place.

25 Know and understand this:
From the issuing of the decree
to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
until an Anointed One, the ruler,
will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.
It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat,
but in difficult times.

26 After those sixty-two weeks
the Anointed One will be cut off
and will have nothing.
The people of the coming ruler
will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end will come with a flood,
and until the end there will be war;
desolations are decreed.

27 He will make a firm covenant
with many for one week,
but in the middle of the week
he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering.
And the abomination of desolation
will be on a wing of the temple,
until the decreed destruction
is poured out on the desolator.

Verse 24 literally reads, “seventy sevens” or seventy units of seven. The question however, is a unit of seven what? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? That’s just the start of it. Here’s a list of the interpretive calls that I had to make:

  • How long are the “weeks”? Are they exact seven-year periods, are they symbolic, or are they approximations?
  • When do the seventy weeks begin?
  • What (or who) is the “most holy place” (v. 24)?
  • Who issued the word (or “decree”) to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and when (v. 25)?
  • Who is the “anointed one” (v. 25)?
  • Does the “anointed one” come after seven weeks, or after seven-plus-sixty-two weeks (v. 25)?
  • Who is the “anointed one” who is “cut off, having nothing” (v. 26)? Is it the same as the anointed one of v. 25, or someone else?
  • Who is the “coming ruler” (or “prince to come”) whose people destroy the city and sanctuary (v. 26)?
  • Is there a chronological “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week?
  • Who is the “he” who makes the “strong covenant” (v. 27)? Is it referring to the anointed one, or to the coming ruler?
  • What is the abomination of desolation (v. 27)?
  • When do the seventy weeks end?

Where do you start? Well, it’s good to remember the three most important words for any bible interpretation: 1. Context, 2. Context, and 3. Context. If you don’t understand the context, you’ll go off on all kinds of tangents. What is the context of verses 24-27? Answer: Daniel’s prayer in 9:1-19. I believe that is the most overlooked factor in this passage. Daniel’s prayer, along with its answer is the key to everything.

The chapter opens with Daniel with his nose in the bible (actually the scrolls, as there was no bible back then). He’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 25:11 there is a prophecy that tells the Israelites what’s going to happen. They will be taken into captivity by the King of Babylon and serve him for 70 years. Then, later in Jeremiah 29:10-11 God says:

“When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place.”

God is promising after 70 years of exile he is going to restore his people to their land and he’s going to show favour to them once again. Daniel does some quick math and realizes those 70 years are nearly up. And what does he do? He’s starts praying! What’s he praying for? He’s praying for restoration – not just back to the land, but back to God. The only way that can be fulfilled in Daniel’s mind is by getting back to Jerusalem and back in temple where sacrifices can be made to restore this broken relationship.

And it’s while this prayer is being made, while he’s pouring out his heart to God that Gabriel suddenly appears, interrupts his prayer and gives him the answer. Daniel’s eyes have been fixed on the end of the 70 years of exile and a return to the land. But Gabriel shows Daniel that God has a far more extensive plan that goes beyond a return to the land. “Don’t just think 70 years, Daniel. But 70 Sevens.” God’s timescale is bigger than Daniel ever imagined.

Here is a basic schematic view of the prophecy (complements of Kyle Dillon of the Westminster Academy):

We have “seventy units of seven” broken down into three periods:   7   6   1   Gabriel then informs Daniel within this “seventy-seven” period six things will take place, which are listed in verse 24:

1. Rebellion will end
2. Sins will be brought to an end
3. Atonement would be made for iniquity (or sin)
4. Everlasting righteousness will be established
5. Vision and prophecy will be sealed up
6. The Most Holy Place will be anointed

The chart below shows the possible options (in tan colour) regarding the decree sent out (v.24), the Anointed One (v.26) and the city and sanctuary being destroyed (vv.26-27):

While the details vary from interpreter to interpreter, the options can generally be boiled down to three major views: 1) Preterist, 2) Dispensationalist, and 3) Covenantal–Futurist (there’s a fourth – the Maccabean–Typological, but I’ll leave that out for brevities sake).

The preterist view (from the Latin praeter, which means “past” or “beyond”) considers the prophecy to have been fulfilled by AD 70. By interpreting the “weeks” symbolically, preterists have more flexibility in determining the dates of the events predicted. The “anointed one” in both v. 25 and v. 26 is Jesus, who is also regarded as the one who confirms the “firm (or strong) covenant” of v. 27, and whose atoning work rendered the Jewish sacrifices obsolete. The Roman General Titus is the “prince to come,” whose armies destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here’s what it looks like:

The dispensationalist view interprets the weeks as exact seven-year periods. By starting with one of the decrees of Artaxerxes – either in 458 BC (Ezra 7:11-26) if one uses a 365-day calendar, or in 445 BC (Neh. 2:1-8) if one uses a 360-day calendar, they arrive at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in 33 AD for the end of the sixty-ninth week. However, the events of the seventieth week clearly did not take place in the seven years following Christ’s death, which is why dispensationalists put a “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. This parenthesis (unforeseen by Daniel) will come to an end with the Rapture (also unforeseen by Daniel), which will then lead into the seven-year Great Tribulation, during which time the Antichrist will make a pact with the nation of Israel, only to break it after 3 1/2 years and desecrate the rebuilt Temple. Here’s what it looks like:

The problem I have with this view is, as you can see, the “Great Parenthesis.” Where did they get this from? It’s not in the text, nor is it found anywhere else in Scripture. It appears to be arbitrarily inserted, so as to make the system work. Dispensationalists read verses 24-27 in a sequential, chronological order. But another way to looks at these verses is to view them as a progressive (rather than sequential) unfolding of the future:

Verse 24 covers the entire period – ’70 sevens’
Verse 25 contains the first 69 (62 + 7) sevens
Verse 26 describes the final seven in general terms
Verse 27 describes the final seven in specific terms

That would bring to you the third view which is described below:

The covenantal-futurist view is a blend (of sorts) of the preterist and dispensationalist views. Like the preterists, covenantal futurists take a more symbolic reading of the weeks, but like the dispensationalists, they see some aspects of the prophecy as still awaiting fulfilment. They consider the events of AD 70 to have fulfilled the first half of the seventieth week, but the second half of the seventieth week represents the entire church age up to the present. They still anticipate a future Antichrist who will persecute the church. Here’s what it looks like:

In my message I covered the dispensational and covenantal future views. They differ mostly in the last “seven” or the seventieth week (verse 27). One projects verse 27 into the distant future (the 7-year tribulation and the antichrist) while the other views the last “week” in a telescopic way to refer to the church age up until Christ’s second coming.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the result. Given a second chance I would handle that differently. A few people were left rather bamboozled!

It certainly got our people thinking however. And I mean, really thinking. One individual commented afterwards, “I’ve never looked so hard for so long at so few verses.” That’s good. That’s what God wants us to do with his word. In his very helpful book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals John Piper has a chapter called Brothers, show your people why God inspired hard texts. He asks the question, why has God placed such difficult passages in his book?  His answer: to train us to pray earnestly (for understanding), read well and think hard.  He writes,

“Education is helping people understand something that they don’t already understand. Or, more accurately, education is helping people (young or old) learn how to get an understanding that they didn’t already have. Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a book with complex demanding paragraphs in it.”

This passage was both complex and demanding. And although it was jolly hard work, I am thankful for it.

Note: if you’re really keen you can have a listen to my message on this passage here.  We also recording a Q & A session after the message which you can listen to here

[1] Dispensationalism is a theological system that is a built on a consistent literal interpretation of the bible and views Israel and the church as being separate and distinct in God’s program. Dispensationalists believe in a future 1000-year reign of Christ on earth (where all the promises made to Israel in the OT will be literally fulfilled), and a return of Christ in two phases – a rapture and second coming. They also believe the 70th week in Daniel 9:24-27 refers to the future 7-year tribulation described in Revelation chapters 6-19.