My newsfeed these days is checkered with horrific stories of suffering people, many of them brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Middle East. And just when I can’t imagine how it could get any worse, the next story appears. It’s horrifying. It’s heartbreaking. It’s sobering. And it makes me catch myself when I want to make a First World complaint. Or any complaint for that matter.
The audience of Daniel was no stranger to suffering. In fact, it was their suffering that produced the genre of literature we’ve come to call apocalyptic. Life was as bad as it gets, and relief or rescue was a far-fetched dream. Their only hope was cataclysmic divine intervention. Clean the slate and start over. God needed to show up, destroy the oppressors, reward the suffering righteous, and start them off on a new, good life on a perfect new earth.
This message is not the typical approach of the Old Testament prophets. Generally speaking, the Old Testament prophets warned the people of God’s punishment for their sin, urged their repentance, and assured them of God’s restoration to a glorious future. The formula was “judgment > repentance > restoration.” The old would be renewed.
By contrast, apocalyptic literature says the old is so bad there’s no fixing it. Get rid of it and start over. Apocalyptic literature is also, typically, the genre of people suffering for no apparent reason – that is, they’re not suffering judgment for their sins. They are just suffering – and often because they are faithful and righteous.
Sometimes we get caught up trying to figure out how apocalyptic literature describes the end times, and how X, Y, and Z symbols might work out in that future horrific time. We draw this chart and sketch that timeline. But honestly, such times are pretty far removed from our corner of the world, and we often struggle to find the literature’s immediate relevance. But I guarantee you that Christians in Iraq and Syria have no problem at all grasping the relevance. And while they undoubtedly pray for relief and rescue—as do we—they know better than most of us that what we really need is cataclysmic divine intervention that does away with evil forever and ushers in eternal good. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
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