Resisting End Time Pressure to Conform – Part 2

Dr. Rolf Sons

How does the Christian faith remain identifiable in a world that doesn’t consider itself Christian? How can it be recognizable and strong in a time that is increasingly turning away from Christian subject matter and values? How does our faith retain its shape, so that it doesn’t become assimilated or perish in the mainstream of society?

3. Endure suffering. Babylon has become known as the land of ovens. In tunnel-shaped ovens, bricks were burned or ore melted. With a charcoal firing, these stoves reached temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 F). Daniel’s three friends are to be put into such an oven. They refused to worship the god’s statue. Now they must face the consequences and are thrown into the furnace.

The end times church, which resists the pressure to blend in, will not be able to escape suffering. Jesus Himself foretold to His disciples that they would be thrown into prisons, led before kings and governors, and hated by everyone (Lk 21:12ff.). Paul writes to the congregation in Philippi: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29). The Letter to the Hebrews directs the gaze of the suffering church to Christ, who Himself suffered for them on the cross and endured the contradiction of men (Heb 12:1ff.).

Christ followers and suffering are intrinsically linked. “Like sheep among wolves,” the disciples of Jesus are sent. Manfred Seitz states that the church is blessed in martyrdom. Why is she blessed? The church of Jesus needs a certain amount of suffering, so that she truly remains united and does not allow her spiritual life to degenerate. Otherwise, she will be torn away from Christ and become driftwood on many currents. Only suffering anchors her firmly in the Word of God.

Another blessing of suffering is that the separate denominations tend to draw together. Seitz recalls the experiences of Lutheran and Orthodox Christians in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, and the encounters between Catholics and Protestants in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. When meeting the anti-Christian world power, which claims complete submission, the church is left with only suffering. Karl Hartenstein says, “There is no revolution for the church, only suffering.”

However, in all suffering there is also a basic spiritual experience. Sufferers are kept and preserved in a special way by Christ Himself. This is what exactly what Daniel’s three friends experienced. As soon as they are in the furnace, a fourth person comes to them, so that Nebuchadnezzar rubs his eyes in wonderment: “…Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? [. . .] Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Dan 3:24-25).

Hebrews contains an interpretation of this miracle. It states, “Who through faith […] quenched the violence of fire” (Heb 11:33-34). In fact, the three friends trust in the superiority of their God. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (Dan 3:17).

From the story of their people, the three know that their God can save. He saved Israel from the Red Sea, so He can also save them in this situation. The history of the Christian martyrs, however, shows that things don’t always turn out as well as in the case of Daniel’s friends. Nevertheless, the certainty remains that those who suffer for Christ’s sake will be held by His hand. The theology professor Traugott Hahn was first caught by the Bolsheviks  in the Baltic States in 1917, and then killed. His wife writes in retrospect, “In the almost deafening darkness of the first pain, the ‘nonetheless’ of the faith shone forth from the cross of Christ. On that day of the crucifixion, had not evil also seemingly triumphed? And yet it was the greatest victory ever won, the greatest love affair that God has achieved with man. So we too were allowed to believe in God’s loving intentions, which were of course still hidden to us. Did not God also make my husband inwardly strong, to go in obedience to Him the bitterly heavy way of death, and was this inner victory no greater than a bodily salvation would have been?”

4. Consistently cultivate piety. A new figure enters the stage of world politics: Darius, king of the Medes. One of his first actions as new king is administrative reform. He divides his vast empire—Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, Israel—up. In addition to the 120 governors, he uses three “chief ministers” as a sort of intermediary between himself and the governors. One of them is Daniel. Daniel is now in a very high government office again. He is successful and rising to the top. Faith in God, along with ascent and success, are not contradictory, but quite compatible.

However, Daniel faces a scheming opposition. His success summons envious people, who know exactly where they can trap him. Since his behavior is impeccable, only his faith remains as a point of attack. They intervene with the king. He is expected to pass a law forbidding prayer to a foreign god. The fact that the law is supposed to be recorded in written form gives it special weight.

Daniel’s reaction to this decree is impressive: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Dan 6:10).

Daniel doesn’t fall into a frenzy or panic. He doesn’t become aggressive. Rather, he stays calm in his habit of praying three times a day. Daniel also makes no compromises. How obvious would it have been to stop praying for just 30 days? Or to pray with the window closed? We hear nothing of all this. Daniel resists the pressure to conform. He perseveres in his habits and remains faithful to his Lord. Daniel’s prayer becomes a creed.

Prayer is endangered today. Either we don’t find the time, or we think we can do without prayer at all. The circumnavigator of the globe Gebhard Rollo was asked whether he had prayed on the way. He answered, “No! That’s for the weak.” This is the spirit that surrounds us. But how can a Christianity that does not pray or find time for prayer survive spiritually? Without prayer, our faith cannot become diaspora-enabled. Without prayer, it can muster no resistance. Daniel knows exactly this secret. Therefore, he keeps his prayer times.

Through prayer, Daniel gives his life an orientation. This is symbolized in the way he aligned his prayer toward Jerusalem. Without such a daily orientation, our faith will remain weak and our relationship with God superficial. Spiritual habits, such as a daily prayer time, help to shape one’s faith. They help with inner alignment, cleansing, and clarification. Especially in our media-filled days, such habits are a real help.

5. Hold fast to the hope of the returning Lord. The seventh chapter of the book of Daniel opens up a new horizon. Everything biographical and personal steps into the background. In the foreground are Daniel’s visions about the future of the world and the kingdom of God.

First, Daniel sees the four winds (messengers of God), which move the sea (the sea of nations). The entire world of peoples is in turmoil against God. This turmoil finds its concrete expression in the form of the four animals that rise from the sea of nations. These are human powers that, when loosed from God, carry the character of the animal. The series of animals is: lion, eagle, bear, and leopard.

The lion and the eagle appear in the Bible as prophetic images of world powers (see Jer 2:15; Ezek 17:3). However, the superhuman kingdom of the lion is weakened. His wings are pulled out and a human heart is given to him. A strong empire becomes a weak, human, and fearful one. There is much to support the interpretation of the Persian Empire, before whose violence the whole world trembled. In the end, however, it was overrun by Alexander the Great (see Daniel 8:4, 7).

The character of the bear, besides his strength, is his insatiable appetite. The bear straightens up. He goes into attack position. In his mouth he carries three ribs, the rest of his just-swallowed prey. As soon as he has taken a sacrifice, he is already thinking of his next. The interpretation fits best with Alexander the Great and his empire.

Noticeable with the leopard are the four wings and heads. They represent the global power of this animal. It most likely indicates the most universal of the ancient empires, the Roman Empire. This becomes the forerunner of the anti-Christian empire. The fourth animal has its own character. It is awful, destructive. The ten horns are an expression of his tremendous power. The small, eleventh horn, which springs from it, can be interpreted as the person of the Antichrist.

For the first time in Scripture, we see the image of the Antichrist before us. He rises from the sea of nations and will gain incredible power. His purpose is to destroy the church of God and abolish the times, ordinances, and laws that God has given to this world. He becomes totalitarian and will put himself in the place of God. As the “man of lawlessness” (Matt 24:12; cf. 2 Thess 2:8), he will abolish the bond of conscience to the commandments of God. He proclaims love, avoidance of suffering and life struggles, and everything that finally frees sexuality from all limitations. He removes the unborn life. “The Antichrist embodies, represents, and proclaims what in the current hour of the world is the humane, the human, the illuminating, the worthy, and the absolutely necessary” (Manfred Seitz).

Finally, John’s letter speaks of denying the deity of Jesus Christ. The Antichrist represents a form of faith. He may even say “Jesus,” but no longer that He is the Christ. At this point the spirits divide. In modern terms, his spirit appears today, where Jesus is seen as an ethical teacher but no longer as the Lord and Savior of the world.

The current Protestant church is silent about the mysterious figure of the Antichrist. There is a sort of “clerical correctness,” a tacit understanding of what one may publicly say in the church, if one does not want to be condemned as conservative, fundamentalist, unscientific, biblical, or too pious. That is precisely why it is necessary to talk about it. The spirits must be discerned. The Bible warns of anti-Christian seduction.

Now, in the seventh chapter, another door opens. In addition to the figure of the Antichrist, Daniel sees another form. It is the Son of Man, who comes from heaven and gives all power and honor to God. The Son of Man is the eschatological ruler authorized by God. He is none other than Jesus Christ. God sends the Son of Man into our world, which is ruled by the animal kingdom, to redeem it and defeat the beast. We are going to face this final dispute as the church of Jesus Christ. Christ will speak the final word. He will overcome the power of evil. It is necessary to hold fast to the hope of the returning Lord, who stands above all the forces and powers of this world.

Daniel shows us how we, as Christians, can resist the pressure to conform. In chapter 12 it says, “But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase” (verse 4, NLT). It is the Word of God that holds us, that opens our eyes, and gives us the strength to resist. Our task as a church is to preserve the Word of God as a diamond in its unadulterated purity and clarity.

Midnight Call - 10/2018

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety