Thoughts to Ponder: Chapter 29

Chapter 29: The Meaning of the Visions of Daniel ~ Daniel 12:1-13

Q1 – What is the significance of the linen garment of “the man dressed in linen?” Who do you think this man is?

A1 – The man dressed in linen appeared at the beginning of this vision and is described as a dazzling figure (see Daniel 10:4-6). He is apparently different and distinctive from the other divine beings mentioned. Is he Jesus Christ? Quite simply, the scriptures do not tell us, and Bible scholars differ on their assumptions.

However, if this man in linen from chapter 10 is the same as the one who appears later in the vision (see Daniel 12:5-7), he seems to be someone in authority. He is the one who is asked how much longer these astonishing happenings will continue. In his reply, he swears by the one who lives forever, the Eternal One. By uttering this oath, he is attesting to the truth and accuracy of his response. It would also seem that he is acknowledging the source of his knowledge to be the Eternal One.

What is the significance of the linen clothing that this man is wearing? Linen has been woven from flax fibers for millennia. Coarser weaves were more suitable for utilitarian purposes, such as the sails on ships. However, linen could also be woven into extremely fine fabric, almost resembling silk. It is soft and comfortable next to the skin and is particularly useful in hot climates to help keep people cooler and drier.

Linen was popular with royalty, but more importantly, God commanded that linen be used in the tabernacle as well as for several of the garments worn by the Jewish priests.  (Search on “linen” and look through the references in Exodus and Leviticus.) It was often white in color because the fibers did not take dye well, and drying garments in the sun further helped to bleach them white.

Going forward in time, on into eternity, linen is mentioned as well. The armies of heaven will be “…riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:14b, NIV). And then there’s this beautiful scripture concerning the wedding of the Lamb in Revelation 19:6-8, NIV:

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.’

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)”

You’ll recognize the reference in this scripture to Jesus and the church, as He is often referred to as the Lamb of God and the church as His bride. With the bride being given fine linen to wear and the linen representing the good deeds of God’s people, how beautiful it is to envision the church wearing this garment of righteousness. So regardless of whether the “man dressed in linen” is an angel or Jesus himself, a garment made of linen would be a fitting fabric for a heavenly being.

Q2 – When you read Daniel 12 in this version (The Message), do you sense that we are not supposed to fully understand the meaning of this vision? (see v. 4 and v. 9)

A2 – It almost sounds like a modern day spy movie: “This is a confidential report, Daniel, for your eyes and ears only. Keep it secret. Put the book under lock and key until the end” (Daniel 12:4a, MSG). Verse 9 repeats some of these instructions as well.

This is a rather mysterious statement, because at some point, well before the time of Christ, Daniel’s writings became available and didn’t stay secret. Daniel’s contemporaries knew about him, and in the next lesson, we examine the scriptures where he is mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. However, did his contemporaries ever read his writings? When did this book that we now know as Daniel in the Old Testament become available to the Jewish people? Jesus knew about it, because he mentioned Daniel’s prophecy in Matthew 24, which will be discussed in the last lesson in the book.

So yes, it does seem like readers are not supposed to fully understand all that was revealed to Daniel. In fact, you almost feel like you’re not even supposed to be reading these revelations! Of course, if God had not wanted that to happen, then these writings wouldn’t have become available. However, the complete meaning of Daniel’s visions do seem to be under lock and key. It’s also interesting that scrolls from Daniel were among those discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have further verified the authenticity of the book.

What are we to deduce from these verses? Realize that God makes plain what he wants to make plain, and there are other things He chooses not to make plain. For example, the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward. But there are parts of Daniel’s visions that are simply not plain, at least not to us today. Rather than trying to find hidden meanings, perhaps we should accept that we don’t have to understand everything. If we put our trust in God, He will take care of everything—in His time, and in His way.

This scripture in I Corinthians 13:12 (NASB) comes to mind: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Here Paul tells us that, right now, trying to understand some things is kind of like looking into an old antique mirror and seeing a dim, distorted image. Later on, we’ll see things clearly, and in the meantime, here’s what he tell us to do: “But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (I Corinthians 13:13, MSG). [As an aside, if you’ve never read this whole chapter on love in The Message, be sure to take the time to do so!]

Q3 – Although it’s interesting to read what various scholars have to say about the meaning of Daniel’s visions, what are your important take-aways from reading and studying this vision, particularly the explanation given to Daniel in chapter 12?

A3 – It will be interesting to hear the responses from everyone. Verse 3 is one that speaks to me, and perhaps to you as well. “Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever” (Daniel 12:3, MSG).

This verse gives us a blueprint for living that is just as appropriate for God’s people today as it was in Daniel’s time. Maybe we can’t understand all of the visions of Daniel, but here’s something we can do: live wisely and well and put others on the right path to life. When we watch how we live our own lives and help bring others to God, we will be letting our light shine.

You may recall these words from Jesus’s teachings which provide a fitting complement to this verse:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV).