Monday, February 13, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel, Day 37. Daniel's Revelation, Part Eight

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 37
Daniel's Revelation
Part Eight

When we concluded yesterday Antiochus had put down what he believed was a full revolt in Jerusalem and had returned to his own country. He is about to make his fourth assault on Egypt. The last time he made a foray into Egypt he was humiliated by Rome, but he at least returned to Syria with some spoils of war. This time he will return home bitterly disappointed. "At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant." (Daniel 11:29-30) Rome sent naval assistance to Egypt from the direction of Cyprus. Deprived of his victory, Antiochus takes out his wrath on the Jews.

Antiochus was obsessed with the project of "Hellenizing" all the territories around him. The origin of this word comes from the ancient name of Greece which was "Hellas". (The English word "Greece" is derived from the Latin "Graecia".) Hellenization involved thoroughly indoctrinating and assimilating other cultures into the Greek culture. Antiochus intended that this Hellenization should take place in Judah as well, permeating every area of the people's lives, including their religion. The purpose of the idea of Hellenization was to create a common and universal culture, just as the Antichrist will seek to do in the last days. The Antichrist will impose a one-world government and a one-world religion. Above in verse 30 we find the same spirit in Antiochus, who is against the "holy covenant" and supports those "who forsake the holy covenant". He was offering the Jews something in place of their laws and prophets, their temple, their culture, and their God. This is the way of Satan, always offering us something in place of righteous living, God's holy word, and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan says, "Assimilate into the culture of the world. Be like everybody else. Enjoy the same things as everybody else. The Bible is an outdated book filled with rules that don't apply in modern times. A man who died for your sins? What sins? Who has the right to call you a sinner? How dare anyone judge the way you live your life? You're not a sinner and you don't need a savior! Look how much more you can have of the world if you would just cast aside all the rules in that dusty old book!"

The one whom Jesus called "the prince of this world" makes an offer to mankind similar to that which he made to Jesus in the wilderness, "If you worship me, all will be yours." (Luke 4:7) Jesus said no. Many, to their own doom, have said yes. Satan keeps dragging out the same old lie because it keeps working. Antiochus fell for it. A number of wicked despots and dictators have fallen for it. Many ordinary men and women have fallen for it. But in the end, everything Satan promises is nothing but an illusion, the smoke and mirrors of a master magician. When he has used a person up, he casts him aside. 

In the meantime, Antiochus is still very much alive and ready to take advantage of the growing division among the Jews. Some broke from tradition and eagerly desired Hellenization. They wanted to be worldly and sophisticated and to join what they considered the mainstream. Others purposed in their hearts (much like Daniel) not to allow themselves to be defiled. They stood firmly on the word of God. They were swimming against the stream but determined to keep on swimming. Antiochus continued to antagonize the Jews and disrespect their traditions. A high priest under Antiochus installed a gymnasium in Jerusalem where men engaged in wrestling contests in the Greek style. This meant they wrestled unclothed, an abominable thing to the Jews. The faithful Jews considered the gymnasium a shame and disgrace and a blight on Jerusalem, just as godly people in our day would feel about a strip club or house of ill repute coming into the neighborhood. Greek learning centers were put in place to educate the youth of Jerusalem in Greek culture and religion, a thing which reminds me of the "Hitler Youth Movement". How better to control a nation than for Antiochus to absorb it into his own culture? He sought to make one people out of all: one government, one ruler, one god...and that god was Zeus. 

The ancient historian Josephus alleges that Antiochus commanded the Jews to cease reading the Torah and making sacrifice to the God of Israel in the temple. He also forbade the Jews to circumcise their sons. The refusal to comply brought about various punishments, including death. The chasm between the Hellenistic Jews and the faithful Jews continued to grow wider. The priesthood was corrupt under Jason and then Menelaus, with temple funds being diverted to pay for Greek cultural centers and stadiums for Greek games and competitions. Moneys were also being diverted to pay for Antiochus' many wars. Still there were those who remained faithful to God, observing their religion as always, until eventually Antiochus defiled the temple by setting up an image of Zeus in it, demanding that all sacrifices be brought to the god of Greece. When the people refused, he desecrated the altar by sacrificing a pig on it, rendering the altar unfit for use. This fulfills Daniel 11:31-32, "His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him." The actions of Antiochus eventually led to the Maccabean revolt, which resulted in a liberated Jewish state for about a century.

I want to stop here and point out that there is a lot of conflicting information regarding the dates of Antiochus' various wars and his atrocities against the Jews. No Bible scholar or historian (as far as I can tell) doubts that Antiochus did all these things; it's merely the dating they disagree on. I've purposely avoided providing any specific dates for fear of passing on erroneous information. Some scholars believe Antiochus led two racially motivated campaigns against the Jews, as Daniel 11 appears to indicate, while others believe it was all part of one long ongoing process. There is no doubt he did these things, but there is some dispute about the order in which he did them. 

"Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:33-35) No matter how scary and out of control the world looks, there is an appointed time for these things to end. The eternal plans of God are not threatened in any way by the schemes of man. Many kings and leaders have thought of themselves as gods, even greater than the Most High God, but where are they now? Where is Antiochus Epiphanes? Where is Nero? Where is Herod the Great? Where is Adolf Hitler? They are no more and their kingdoms have fallen. They were subject to death like any other mortal man. Their kingdoms have crumbled into dust. But the King of kings sits enthroned forever and His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.

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