Daniel 10–12 essentially record a single prophecy, but the chapter divisions are deliberate and we will consider each chapter on its own. The prophecy in these chapters is by far the most detailed in the entire book, with such minute detail that sceptics conclude that Daniel cannot have written before the events described. Of course, such a view discounts the God of the Bible, who not only sees history before it happens, but in fact orders and controls it for his own purposes.
The opening chapters of Ezra form important background for this final vision. Daniel received this prophecy “in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia” (v. 1). According to Ezra 1, Cyrus had decreed, in the first year of his reign, that the Jews could return to their land and rebuild the temple. A small consignment of Jews had returned and work on the temple had commenced.
The foundation had been laid by the second year of Cyrus (Ezra 3:8ff) but, before the work had been completed, opposition arose, which forced the Jews to cease with the work “all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4). It would take the combined prophetic efforts of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1ff) to encourage the people to return to the work.
Daniel therefore received this prophecy in a time of great opposition to the Jews. Temple construction had ceased, and everything that had once seemed so promising now seemed hopeless. Daniel, back in the land of exile, was greatly concerned and turned to God in prayer. The answer to his prayer assured him of two things: first, that God was still in control, and, second, that opposition was sure to persist. Daniel 10 affords us insight into the spiritual reality behind Ezra and Nehemiah’s political struggles in Jerusalem.
In v. 1, Daniel notes two things about the answer that he received to his prayer: (1) that it was “true,” and (2) that it pertained to “a great conflict.” He was given, in other words, insight into the reality of and the reason for opposition to God’s people. We need to learn these same lessons.
First, we need to be reminded of the reality of opposition to Christianity.
For as long as any of us can remember, Christianity has been treated with respect in our country. According to the Joshua Project, 77% of South Africans profess to be Christian, with 21% of those claiming to be evangelical. (For the record, “evangelical” in South Africa does not have the same negative political overtones as it does in the United States.) We have grown so accustomed to freedom of worship and religious expression that we are shocked and offended when religious liberty is not as prized as we would like it to be.
Truth be told, our insistence on “religious liberty” is too often a veiled appeal for religious power. For example, Christians bristle at the mere suggestion that Christian holidays like Christmas and Good Friday should not receive preference over Jewish or Muslim holidays. Christians have lamented the removal of prayer and Christian education from public schools as if civil government exists to promote the Christian faith above other religious traditions in our diverse country. We have so long operated on the legacy of our Christian forefathers that we have forgotten that, throughout history, worshippers of Yahweh have not enjoyed the privileges—indeed, the power—that we demand.
Daniel’s final vision reminds us that the ordinary expectation of Christians should be opposition from a world system opposed to God. There is simply no promise in Scripture that God’s people should expect to be favoured by godless world systems. If the world increasingly sidelines and seeks to silence Christianity, we should understand that we are simply continuing the long legacy of our faith forebears who were opposed for their loyalty to the God of heaven.
Second, we need to be reminded of the reason for opposition to Christianity.
If we read these chapters with the backdrop of those early chapters of Ezra, we understand that Daniel was driven to his knees because of the political turmoil faced by his brothers and sisters in the holy land, who had been prevented from rebuilding the temple. But the vision in these chapters highlights the spiritual reality that lay behind that opposition. There was far more going on than met the naked eye.
Behind the political realities that opposed Yahweh’s faithful people raged an intense spiritual warfare. Daniel needed to be reminded, and needed to remind his fellow Jews, that their battle was not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in high places. Political opposition was simply another tool of the evil one to oppose the work of God.
The reason that Christians should not expect political and worldly power is because God gives no promise of political power against the forces of the devil at work in godless systems to oppose the work of God. If we understand the nature of spiritual warfare, it should not surprise us that the world system opposes us. And we should not expect power in a landscape where God makes no such promises.
Christianity’s power lies in the proclamation of the gospel, not in the acquisition of political favour. Only as the church faithfully spreads the gospel, and as God blesses those efforts with gospel fruit, should we expect to enjoy any form of power. The little stone will indeed grow into a mountain that will cover the entire earth (see chapter 2) but this will only be realised through faithful, Spirit-blessed gospel proclamation.
As you meditate today on Daniel 10, ask God to realign your expectations of the reality of opposition as you grow in your understanding of the reasons for opposition. Realising the power of the gospel, pray for opportunities to share Christ and for the Spirit to bless your efforts with gospel fruit.