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As I begin this article, the Hebrew month of Tishri has arrived.  The first day of Tishri is the Feast of Trumpets, a festival that many of us associate with the prophesied return of Jesus the Messiah and the resurrection of the righteous, events to be announced by the sounding of the “Last Trump” (Rev. 11:15-18; I Cor. 15:51-52; Matt. 24:30-31; I Thes. 4:16-17).

Interest in these future events has been high in 2004, stimulated in part by the best-selling novel Glorious Appearing, which pictures the Second Coming of Jesus.  But even when books on biblical prophecy do not make the best-seller lists, the Second Coming is eagerly anticipated by Christians everywhere.  It has been that way for over 1970 years now, ever since Jesus' original disciples received the promise of his return (Acts 1:11).   

Those first disciples were confident that their Master would come back in their lifetime (see for example I Thes. 1:10; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11).  Christians in each generation since then have shared their expectations.  It would be fascinating to see a list of all the different years in which the Second Coming has been predicted to occur.  I would not be at all surprised if that list included the majority of the years since 30 A.D.    

Waiting as a Way of Life

If we extend our view from the subject of “waiting for the Second Coming” to the broader one of “waiting for the coming of the Messiah,” then we are looking at an even longer stretch of history.  Like almost every aspect of Christianity, hoping for the fulfillment of divine promises has “Jewish roots.”  

In the book Till Jesus Comes:  Origins of Christian Apocalyptic Expectation (Hendrickson, 1996), Professor Charles Holman of Regent University observes that the balancing act of coping with delay while waiting in expectation was nothing new to Jesus' disciples.  They and their ancestors had been “waiting on the edge of their seats,” so to speak, for over 500 years by the time Jesus was born.  

Consider, for example, the perspective of an educated Jew living in exile in Babylon during the sixth century B.C.  Such a person would have known that the great likelihood of his people's eventual exile had been foretold in the Torah several centuries earlier (Lev. 26:33; Deut. 4:25-28; 28:64-68; 29:22-28).  He would also have been familiar with God's promises not to leave them in captivity (Lev. 26:40-45; Deut. 4:29-31; 30:1-10).  As the years of exile continued, he may have found comfort in words like those found in Deut. 30:5-6:

“He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.  The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (NIV).

Beginning in about 537 B.C., thousands of Jews did have the opportunity to return to Israel.  The temple was rebuilt, and a significant religious revival later occurred under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Still, the former exiles did not experience the unprecedented prosperity and universal spiritual renewal described by Moses in Deut. 30:5-6.  Under the rule of Persian (and later Greek) overlords, Israelites continued to wait for the complete fulfillment of the promises contained in these verses (see e.g. Neh. 9:36-37).  Meanwhile, God's promises were repeated and elaborated by prophets like Haggai (Haggai 2:6-9), Zechariah (Zech. 10), and Malachi (Mal. 3:1; 4:1-6).

In the second century B.C., Israel's hopes rose when the Maccabees overthrew Seleucid oppressors and brought a tenuous independence to the land.  Partisans of the Jewish Hasmonean rulers hoped that a peaceable kingdom was dawning (see for example I Macc. 14:4-15).  Their dreams went unfulfilled, however, and Israel came under Roman rule in 63 B.C.  The Romans were still firmly in control when Jesus began his ministry about ninety years later.     

Lessons from Daniel 9

We see, then, that waiting for the arrival of the fullness of God's kingdom on the earth has been an integral part of the lives of God's people for over 2500 years.  There must be lessons that God wants us to learn from the experience.  We can find out what some of these lessons are by studying the history of the centuries of waiting.  From this history we can learn much about how---and how not---to wait for the Messiah's return. 

One instructive episode in this history involves the prophet Daniel, a prime example of the “educated exile” I mentioned earlier.  As a boy, Daniel was taken captive with other members of the Jewish nobility in about 605 B.C. (Dan. 1:1-5).  He spent most of his life as an official in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and other Gentile kings. 

Late in Daniel's life, in 539 B.C., the Medes and Persians captured Babylon, as announced by the famous “handwriting on the wall'' (Dan. 5).  Daniel understood that the change in rulers had prophetic as well as geopolitical significance (Dan. 9:1-2).  He had read in Jeremiah's prophecies that God would punish the Babylonians after seventy years of ascendancy (Jer. 25:8-14).  Perhaps that time of punishment was beginning.  He had also read that God, in response to Israel's heartfelt repentance, would allow Israelites to return to their land after seventy years of captivity in Babylon (Jer. 29:10-14).  But were the exiles repentant?  When he studied these prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel knew that it was time for some very serious prayer (Dan. 9:3). 

Daniel's prayer is summarized for us in Dan. 9:4-19.  Reading these verses, I am impressed by Daniel's deep understanding of the character of God.  “O Lord, the great and awesome God,” the prayer begins.  Daniel recognized God as the Orchestrator of history.  He knew that Israel's exile was not the result of any lack of power on God's part, nor was it a sign that God had abandoned them.  Instead, it was God's righteousness (v. 7) and faithfulness to his covenant (v. 4) that led to the punishment promised in the Pentateuch.  God, in his love for Israel (v. 4), had chastened his people in order to bring them back to him in repentance.

Although Daniel had lived in exile for almost all of his life, he also knew that his merciful God (v.9) was waiting to hear Israel's prayers and could be counted on to end their captivity according to the promises of scripture.  And so he prayed with confidence and resolve.    

Another notable feature of Daniel's prayer is that it followed biblical precedent.  In particular, it is reminiscent of the great prayers of intercession made by Moses after the golden calf incident (Exod. 32:11-13, 31-32;33:15-16; 34:8-9).  Like Moses, Daniel confessed Israel's sins and acknowledged that there was nothing he could say in his people's defense.  Instead he spoke up for God's reputation and appealed to his great mercy.  

Daniel understood a principle that James, the brother of Jesus, would write down centuries later:  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  Remembering the examples of Moses and others, he knew that one person acting in accordance with the will of God could make a great difference.  And so he prayed wholeheartedly. 

Daniel's prayer received a clear and prompt response.  God sent the archangel Gabriel with the news that Jerusalem would indeed be rebuilt and restored (v. 25).  Gabriel also brought a special revelation about the coming of the Messiah (vv. 24-27). 

As our wait for the Messiah's return continues, let us remember, with Daniel, that God is faithful and his promises sure.  We can confidently follow biblical examples of intercessory prayer, knowing that one person's prayer in accordance with the will of God can achieve powerful results. 

In This Issue

This issue of Grace and Knowledge features an article about another prophecy from the time of Judah's captivity and exile---the “curse of Jeconiah” recorded in Jer. 22:24-30.  The story of this prophecy provides another example of God's great mercy and decisively answers a common objection to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus himself gave much instruction about how to approach our wait for his return.  One example is the puzzling parable of Luke 16:1-8, often called the parable of the unjust steward or the parable of the shrewd manager.  Our article on the parable shows that its message becomes clearer when we learn more about the culture of Jesus' time.  

The incomparable prophet Moses (Deut. 34:10) was an important role model for Daniel and a key forerunner of the Messiah (Deut. 18:15, 18).  This issue includes an article on the character of Moses, exploring the meaning of the ``meekness'' for which he is well known.

Our attention in the “end time” often turns toward events in the volatile Middle East.  Also appearing in this issue is an update on the war on terror from the vantage point of a prominent Israeli journalist.     

I am completing this article just a few days before the American Thanksgiving holiday.  Our waiting goes on, but there is much for which to be thankful.  We hope that Issue 17 of Grace and Knowledge will be a source of edification and encouragement for you.   

Doug Ward

Issue 17