22 July 2020

st-michael-slaying-the-dragon-16th-century-hieronymus

There are those who would argue, with some justification, that if you want to understand the revelation of John you better be able to decipher the book of Daniel. I just see the dragons of misinterpretation and heresy. Those who see enlightenment not as a metaphor but something literal: those who do not see that one cannot inherit salvation: those who think salvation is a matter of some form of gnostic, mystical, perfection.

And then there are those who count days and try to put dates on things. Who notice the differences in numbers. Who count days as years, and assume prophecy is some form of Newtonian physics. Calvin corrects them.

Then he adds, Happy is he who shall have waited and endured until the 1335 days. In numerical calculations I am no conjurer, and those who expound this passage with too great subtlety, only trifle in their own speculations, and detract from the authority of the prophecy. Some think the days should be understood as years, and thus make the number of years 2600. The time which elapsed from this prophecy to the advent of Christ was about 600 years. From this advent 2000 years remain, and they think this is the assigned period until the end of the world, as the law also flourished about 2000 years from the date of its promulgation to its fulfillment at Christ’s advent. Hence they fix upon this sense. But they are quite wrong in separating the 1290 days from the 1335, for they clearly refer to the same period, with a slight exception. It is as if the angel had said, although half the time should be prorogued, yet the faithful ought constantly to persist in the hope of deliverance. For he adds, about two months, or a month and a half, or thereabouts. By half a time, we said, the issue was pointed out, as Christ informs us in Matthew 24:22. Unless those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been safe. Reference is clearly made here to that abbreviation of the time for the Church’s sake. But the angel now adds forty-five days, which make a month and a half, implying — God will put off the deliverance of his Church beyond six months, and yet we must be strong and of good courage, and persevere in your watchfulness. God at length will not disappoint you — he will succor you in all your woes, and gather you to his blessed rest. Hence, the next clause of the prophecy is this,

John Calvin. Commentary on Daniel

What is clear to me is not anything subtle. It is that the wicked will be more blind, more self deluded, and the lines will become more clear. And that in the end, the Church will win, but it will not be our doing. It will be the hand of God.

Daniel 12

12 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 4 But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”

5 Then I, Daniel, looked and behold, two others were standing, one on this bank of the river and the other on that bank of the river. 6 And one said to the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be until the end of these wonders?” 7 I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed. 8 As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?” 9 He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. 10 Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. 11 From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days! 13 But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.”

Apart from an excuse to go looking for religious art, the question of Michael vexes. Calvin notes an error here we can learn from: Servetius attributed the genius of Michael to himself because he had that name. This is not the issue. Christ will preserve his church and his people despite all the rages of the enemy.

I like the fact that Calvin’s legal training and honesty indicates that when he can see two ways of reading a passage, he mentions both.

By Michael many agree in understanding Christ as the head of the Church. But if it seems better to understand Michael as the archangel, this sense will prove suitable, for under Christ as the head, angels are the guardians of the Church. Whichever be the true meaning, God was the preserver of his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son, and because the angels are under the government of Christ, he might entrust this duty to Michael. That foul hypocrite, Servetus, has dared to appropriate this passage to himself; for he has inscribed it as a frontispiece on his horrible comments, because he was called Michael! We observe what diabolic fury has seized him, as he dared to claim as his own what is here said of the singular aid afforded by Christ; to his Church. He was a man of the most impure feelings, as we have already sufficiently made known. But this was a proof of his impudence and sacrilegious madness — to adorn himself with this epithet of Christ without, blushing, and to elevate himself into Christ’s place, by boasting himself to be Michael, the guardian of the Church, and the mighty prince of the people! This fact is well known, for I have the book at hand should any one distrust my word.

Grant, Almighty God, since we are placed in similar distresses to those of which thou dost wish to warn us by thy angel, as well as thine ancient people, that thy light may shine upon us by means of thy only-begotten Son. May we feel ourselves always in safety under his invincible power. May we dwell securely under his shadow, and contend earnestly and boldly unto the end, against Satan and all his impious crew. And when all our warfare is over, may we arrive at last at that blessed rest where the fruit of our victory awaits us, in the same Christ our Lord. — Amen

Calvin, op.cit

So, after all the theology and the text, what should we do? We can’t ignore it, for all scripture is profitable to us. We can see the clear warnings. We can see that as the time of Christ’s return gets closer, evil will be less subtle and more bold. Not that evil as ever been afraid of genocide and destruction.

We can also see that the witness of people to Christ will bring fruit, and those who are firm in their love of God will be glorious at the resurrection, while those who perfect their wickedness will be exposed, shamed, scorned and destroyed.

And we know we have a protector, from Christ, obedient to Christ, who is our surety and safety during this time we are bearing witness regardless of how evil rages around us. We may not survive this temporal storm, but this temporal storm is not the issue.

Eternity is. And those who are faithful will shine.