I have recently been considering how I would respond to intense persecution. In light of the rapid change in the shape of American society and culture, and the public’s view of Christianity, it is likely that persecution of Christians in America will increase before it will decrease. What will this look like? I do not know. But it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Christian churches and leaders will face fines, imprisonments, and maybe more in the future. From time to time I ask myself, “Will I be willing to boldly face increasingly harsher persecution?” Or maybe a better question, “Is there any hope and comfort in the present and future for those facing persecution?”
Reflecting on Daniel’s vision of the goat and the ram in Daniel 8, Lutheran scholar Andrew Steinmann states,
The little horn in Daniel 8, representing Antiochus, who would persecute God’s people during the Greek era, is a foretaste of the greater persecution by the little horn in Daniel 7, representing the Antichrist, who wages war against the saints throughout the church age until Christ returns. By demonstrating how God would deliver his people form Antiochus Epiphanes, the vision in Daniel 8 offers hope to Christians throughout the church age, who must face the Antichrist’s persecution and corruption of the Gospel (Daniel, 390).
With all eschatological (end times) prophecies in Scripture come confusion, debate, and disagreement. However, there are two clear and primary things to draw from the visions found in Daniel 7 and 8.
(1) God’s people will face persecution
In Daniel 7-8, there are visions of harsh persecution that will afflict God’s people. There are mild forms of persecution that all of us experience in one way or another. You may be ridiculed for your faith at work. You may be shunned in various ways in your family. However, some Christians abroad face harsher forms of persecution. People are actually put to death for their faith in many countries. Daniel 8 foretells of a figure who would persecute God’s people during the Greek era. Most conservative scholars see this figure as being fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphranes. And this figure prefigures the Antichrist who will come to persecute God’s people until Christ returns. Persecution is clearly part and parcel of the establishing and fulfilling of the eternal kingdom of God.
(2) God is in control of persecution
The theological truths that communicate hope and comfort to those being persecuted in the vision of Daniel 8 appear to be that, although this passage communicates times of persecution and corruption, God is all knowing and in control of all things, including the persecution of his people.
How does the reality of persecution and the sovereignty of God provide comfort to those who are being persecuted?
Specifically regarding comfort and seeing Daniel as a whole, I think its important to look at the overarching themes of Daniel when communicating the truths in Daniel 8 to those in difficult situations. Mainly, we see that no matter what happens, God is in control and ultimately those who who belong to him will persevere. In Daniel this is portrayed in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, as well as in the various prophecies about coming persecution from antichrist figures. God sovereignly rescued his people from persecution. Another theme of comfort is that God sets and removes rulers and will ultimately dethrone all earthly rulers to rule his eternal kingdom.
Nevertheless, the message of Daniel 8, and all of Scripture for that matter, is to persevere. Those who endure to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13). The response of God’s people in the face of persecution must be perseverance. This means that in and through all persecution, we must place our trust and faith in the One who knows all, sees all, and who works all things in his sovereign grace for the good of his people. This sovereign God will one day righteously judge all.
No amount of persecution will stop God’s purposes from coming to pass. God plans all things and he always fulfills what he plans. The persecution led by Antiochus Epiphanes did not prevent the Messiah from coming to redeem humanity. Likewise, the antichrist’s persecution will not be able to stamp out the gospel. His people will persevere through faith. God’s sovereign goodness is our only true hope and comfort in the midst of persecution. Take hope in the fact that God will never leave his people in the midst of the harshest persecution. Take comfort in the fact that God sovereignly works all things, including persecution, for the good of his people and the renown of his name.
In the words of Steinmann, “God’s salvific plans cannot be thwarted” (390).
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.