Explore: Be ready for tribulation

• The Explore the Bible lesson for Aug. 31 focuses on Daniel 9:20-27; 12:9-13.

There is unparalleled unrest in the world today. Iraq is coming apart at the seams. Syria is disintegrating and threatening to take the entire region down with it. Religious minorities are being threatened with genocide. Even innocent infants aren’t spared the horror of a war someone started but no one is able to stop.

Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza still are rocketing and bombing each other. Again, many of the victims are innocent children. The Russian bear also seems to have come out of hibernation and is hungry for territory in a way that brings chilling memories of a Cold War we thought was over.

'Wars will continue...'

This begs a question. Has there ever been a time in history when all the above or some version of it wasn’t the case? Since Cain slew Abel, has there ever been a time of total peace in the world? Gabriel gave what might perhaps be the most dire of warnings. “‘War will continue until the end’” (Daniel 9:26). Truer words never were spoken.

Every single day, we educate our youth in four military academies to be the leaders of the next war. Strategic planning happens in secret places as to how we will fight when that time comes. Our tax dollars are spent today to lay in store the weapons used tomorrow.

Just the same, throughout history, there are those who looked at the events of human-on-human depravity and read in those events the hand of God at work to bring God’s creation as we know it to an end. How can any generation know when it will be the generation when God brings all of this to an end and peace will rule, when the lion will lie down with the lamb?

Perhaps we have sometimes made a mistake in the way we preach the gospel. We promise people if they will follow Christ life will be full of nothing but joy and happiness. Perhaps we misidentify the “abundant life” as meaning a life without pain or hardship.

Great tribulation

In fact, Daniel envisioned a time when Christ, the very son of God himself, would suffer great tribulation. When Jesus entered public ministry, from the beginning, he warned his disciples he would have to suffer greatly in order to accomplish the purpose of God. Those who wanted to follow him, Jesus warned, would have their cross to bear, their own instrument of pain, suffering and even torture.

If that was what Daniel and the prophets foresaw in the suffering Savior and that is what Jesus promised, on what basis do we believe following Jesus will make life easier? Perhaps “abundant life” means something other than an abundance of material wealth or ease of life.

Perhaps the abundance Jesus promised his followers is the fulfillment that comes not from knowing our lives will be carefree but from knowing our lives count for something beyond ourselves—that our lives have eternal not just temporal meaning, and we participate with God in the work of redemption in this world.

The famous comedian Robin Williams apparently took his own life. Every time this kind of thing happens, even Christians are given to wonder how a person with such wealth and the power of celebrity could assess his life as being unworthy of living. We discount the power of clinical depression that can rob a person of good judgment. We also show our hand—that there are still vestiges of the world left in us, and we still tend to believe abundance of the material equates to abundance of the spiritual.

Living as though we believe

Often, we fail to preach the gospel more effectively not because our sermons and worship are lacking in quality but because we fail to live as though we believe it ourselves. We pursue the same kind of security the world seeks. We chase the material with the same sense of passion and urgency everyone else does.

People question our faith not because we don’t know the right words but because we don’t make choices any differently than everyone else does, even those who make no claim to have any interest in Christ. We panic every time the headlines change. We fret when the economy takes a rollercoaster ride up and down. We worship physical beauty as though it was the highest form of beauty.

Daniel’s experience with Gabriel is not a clear roadmap about how things will turn out when the world comes to an end. Sincere believers of the Bible have disagreed for generations as to the meaning of the mystical words in the book of Daniel and other apocryphal books.

Daniel’s words are an ancient reminder of two things. First, the world will be in turmoil until God completes the work of redemption. War will continue to the end. Second, in the end, God will complete the work of redemption. Only those who can trust God’s redemptive purpose can live in peace even when peace is nowhere to be found.

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