Today’s readings, the final readings for the liturgical year, conclude our annual year-end reminder of our end and the end.
The first reading switches from a series of short stories about Daniel and his companions during their Babylonian captivity to an apocalyptic vision of world history, related to Daniel by ‘one of those present’, generally interpreted to mean an angel.
The vision describes four fantastic beasts, representing four kingdoms or empires of the ancient world which would dominate the middle east, all hostile to the state and people of Israel and by inference, to their God: ‘the Ancient One’, ‘the Most High’. For this hostility, all would be overthrown.
The fourth beast, thought to be the empire of Alexander the Great, fragmented after his death, the separate fragments falling to the rule of his heirs, mostly his generals; ‘the ten horns’. The last horn: ‘different from those before’, would be Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruler over Israel. Antiochus would aggressively impose Greek culture on Israel; ‘changing feast days and the law’, ultimately profaning the temple in Jerusalem and compelling Jews to perform blasphemous sacrifices on the altar. This precipitated the Maccabean revolt, circa 160BC, recounted in 1 Maccabees.
In Luke 21, we hear Jesus speak of the end times, in which He prophesys the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
Our passage today concludes those warnings with an injunction to His followers to be alert to that day and to be steadfast in their faith that they may ‘escape the tribulation’ and confidently ‘stand before (their Judge) the Son of God’.