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Stuart Chase - 22 May 2022

The Coming Conflict (Daniel 10:1–12:3)

Daniel 10–12 comprises one long section, in which Daniel received his final vision. It was a vision of a coming conflict and, by far, the most detailed vision in the book. As we consider these chapters together, we must not miss the overriding message, which was to highlight God’s sovereignty so as to provide comfort and hope to his people despite present appearances. God remains sovereignly in control, and continues to fulfil his plan, despite the unexpected moments of life.

Scripture References: Daniel 11:1-45, Daniel 10:1-21, Daniel 12:1-3

From Series: "Daniel"

A sermon series in the book of Daniel.

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Forrest Gump’s momma always said that life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. That enduring line from the Tom Hanks headlined 1994 film communicates an important truth. Life doesn’t always give what we expect. However, while Mrs Gump probably never intended it, there is an implicit untruth in that catchphrase: The unexpected is not always chocolate.

When we left Daniel 9, we left the prophet in great anticipation. After the glorious messianic prophecy of 9:24–27, he may have thought that life was like a box of chocolates. From the prophecy he had received, it seemed that life was going to hand Judah all sorts of things but, for the most part, it would be chocolate. To be sure there was a vague reference to “a troubled time” but who can’t handle a little trouble now and then? Enter Daniel’s final vision, which colours in the picture of the broadly outlined “troubled time” (9:25).

Chapters 10–12 comprise one long section, in which Daniel received his final vision. It was a vision of a coming conflict—of great proportions. It is also, by far, the most detailed vision in the book—so detailed, in fact, that many interpreters simply cannot bring themselves to believe that Daniel, living in the sixth century BC, wrote these things before they happened. Many claim that an anonymous author wrote these things after they happened, pretending to be Daniel and pretending that they were revealed to him as prophecy. There is no reason for us to think that that was the case, but it does set us up to appreciate the exquisite detail in which God told Daniel and his people of events to come.

As we consider these chapters together—though we will leave 12:4–13 for our next and final study—we must beware of getting too caught up in the details. We could spend hours digging into the text but, in the process, miss the overriding message. The purpose of this word from God was not to satisfy prophetic curiosity but to provide comfort and hope to his people despite present appearances. Iain Duguid is right: This vision was given “to help us understand that life is hard and why life is hard, but also to remind us that we are not alone.” As we work our way through the text, therefore, we want to remind ourselves at every turn that God remains sovereignly in control, and continues to fulfil his plan, despite the unexpected moments of life.

The Context of the Coming Conflict

We saw previously, in Daniel 9, that Daniel was driven to prayer when he understood, by reading Jeremiah, that the end of the exile was imminent. But though he “perceived” something about the end of the exile (9:2), he seemingly made the erroneous assumption that the end of the exile, the rebuilding of the temple and the city, the coming of Messiah, and the establishment of the new covenant would all happen at the same time. God sent the prophecy of the seventy weeks to help him and his people understand his extended timeline. It would take 490 years for the full fulfilment of everything that he had read in Jeremiah.

Chapter 10 opens “in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia” (10:1). This date sets the context for the coming conflict.

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision.

 

In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.

 

(Daniel 10:1–3)

According to the early chapters of Ezra, an initial delegation of Jews had returned to Promised Land in the first year of Cyrus to commence the rebuilding of the temple. It was not long, however, before opposition arose to the work on the temple. Consequently, work had not progressed as quickly as it should have by the third year of Cyrus. Daniel was discouraged that the rebuilding was floundering. He responded with prayer and fasting.

The text refers to Daniel “mourning for three weeks.” During his “mourning,” he entered a time of selective fasting: He abstained from “delicacies,” “meat,” and “wine” and used none of the body lotion that would have been so helpful in the hot Babylonian climate. Lest anyone accuse him of living it up in the Babylonian palace while the returning exiles struggled in Jerusalem, he denied himself certain luxuries, and even again employed his Babylonian name (“Belteshazzar”) as a reminder that he was an exile. He felt their pain.

As a point of application, it is helpful to consider why Daniel fasted “for three weeks.” This was not a goal that he set for himself but was the amount of time he needed to pray before he received an answer. We read in 10:13 that the prince of Persia (more on him later) delayed God’s messenger for “twenty-one days” (three weeks). Daniel, in other words, fasted and prayed until he got an answer. He did not set out to fast for three weeks, but that is how long he needed to fast and pray before God’s answer came. He was so burdened about Jerusalem that he persisted in prayer until God sent an answer. We have much to learn from his example.

As he mourned and fasted, he received “a word” from the Lord about “a great conflict.” The “word” showed that there were hidden realities behind the conflict that God’s people were facing and that, despite the promise of a coming Messiah and a new covenant (9:24–27), they should not expect the conflict to ease. The “troubled time” predicted in 9:25 would be a time of great trouble, indeed.

The Conversation about the Coming Conflict

After three weeks of mourning and fasting, God’s messenger arrived with an answer to Daniel’s prayer. The messenger’s appearance is recorded in 10:4–9:

On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris) I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength. Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground.

(Daniel 10:4–9)

There is a great deal of discussion as to the identity of this messenger. It is unimportant, for our purposes, to enter that debate. The messenger exudes holiness and power such that Daniel was emotionally and physically overwhelmed and, when he spoke, the prophet seems to have physically passed out.

It would take us more time than we have in this study to examine each of the elements of the messenger’s appearance. For our purposes, I want simply to observe that the Lord sent an answer to Daniel’s prayer. To be sure, it was a delayedanswer, but the Lord did not remain silent. He started a conversation with Daniel in response to his prayer.

The Conflict Behind the Coming Conflict

The conversation unveils a far greater spiritual conflict behind the political conflict that Daniel was witnessing. He witnessed political conniving, which led to a go-slow in the construction in the temple in Jerusalem, but there was something far more insidious going on behind the scenes. The remainder of chapter 10 explains this great conflict.

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

 

When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and was mute. And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.”

 

Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince. And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him.”

 

(Daniel 10:10–11:1)

The angel twice stressed that Daniel received an answer because he was “greatly loved.” In fact, the word “loved” translates the same word as “covet” in the Ten Commandments. The Lord coveted a relationship with Daniel and, as a consequence, answered his prayer.

We should pause and consider the reality that despite appearances to the contrary, God still highly favoured his people. It is interesting that Daniel, for the first time in the second half of the book, refers to himself as Belteshazzar. This, of course, was the Babylonian name given to him more than seventy years earlier when he had first been taken into exile (1:7). He was perhaps consciously reminding himself that he was still an exile. He was not in the land of promise. He was still experiencing the consequences of Judah’s covenant faithlessness. Despite that, he was “greatly loved” by God.

Christians need to remember that, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, we are always “greatly loved” by God. We are greatly loved because we are accepted in the Beloved. Adverse circumstances do not diminish God’s love for us, even if we feel less loved than we did yesterday. As a Christian, God favours you (because he favours Christ) and covets a relationship with you. He has provided the means to realising this relationship through his word and prayer and he responds positively to those who seek him in this way.

As we move on, there is a great deal in this text with which we cannot hope to deal with in depth. We will focus particularly on the warfare that the messenger describes. Three weeks earlier, when Daniel had first opened his mouth in prayer, God had sent his messenger with an answer. The messenger had been delayed in a conflict with “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (10:13) until “Michael” came to help him. Having escaped the prince of Persia, the messenger now brought Daniel a word from the Lord about “what is to happen to your people in the latter days” (10:14). “Latter days” here refers to the latter days of the prophecy, not necessary the latter days of world history. Throughout Daniel, the Lord revealed events pertaining to the period between the Babylonian and the Roman Empires, leading to and including the kingdom of God in Christ. “Latter days” therefore refers not to the time at the end of the world but the time of the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires (the Babylonian Empire having already crumbled). This is important because it shows us that, despite opinions to the contrary, the prophecy of chapter 11 is not about our future but about events in our past, which were yet in Daniel’s future. The prophecy is not about a future, climactic nuclear war involving Russia and China but about the second century BC conflict between Egypt (south) and Syria (north). But more about that in a moment.

Having encouraged Daniel once again, the messenger informed him that he needed to return to the battle with the prince of Persia, and that he anticipated the prince of Greece joining the fight. He had been fighting alongside Michael since the first year of Darius (10:21–11:1) and would now return to that fight. The question before us now is, who are these princes?

Some have suggested that these refer to the human kings of the kingdoms but there seems to be something more significant going on here. Persia and Greece were, obviously, human empires led by human kings, but there appears to be demonic activity behind it all here. Satan hates the people of God and will use anything, including political intrigue, to oppose them. (By the way, Satan appears to have very successfully employed political infighting in recent years to divide the church! We must be on guard!) The fact that the prince of Persia was able to delay the answer to Daniel’s prayer strongly suggests that he was more than merely a human king.

The messenger here appears to be pulling back to curtain on the reality of spiritual warfare. The Frank Peretti novels of the 1980s and 1990s sensationalised spiritual warfare, but many since then have ignored it. The messenger here reveals that there were spiritual forces behind the political turmoil that was affecting God’s people in Daniel’s time. Appearances were deceiving.

Without this behind-the-curtains glimpse, Daniel and his readers might have been tempted to believe that the affliction they were facing was nothing more than political manoeuvring. They needed to realise that spiritual warfare was real and that demonic influence lay behind the threats that sought to disrupt the advance of God’s people. We do well to remember the same.

We need to understand that there is frequently demonic influence behind the temptation we face to disobey God. C. S. Lewis argued that Satan has employed two strategies very successfully over the centuries.

On the one hand, he has successfully managed to persuade many people to overemphasise his influence in their lives. There are many Christians who believe the devil is underneath every rock. They downplay the sinfulness of their own flesh and the unbelieving world and blame the devil for everything. If they succumb to drunkenness or sexual sin it is because they are possessed by the demon of drunkenness or sexual sin and they need to be liberated by demonic exorcism. In this scheme, Christians are so focused on the devil that they underestimate both their accountability before God and the power of the Spirit to enable them to overcome.

On the other hand, the devil has successfully managed to convince many people to underemphasise, if not completely ignore, his influence in their lives. Satan desperately wants God’s people to fail and will do what it takes to see that happen. Our battle against temptation is the battleground of spiritual warfare. We must understand Satan’s strategies and prepare to counter them. Let me give an example.

In 2 Corinthians 2:5–11, Paul writes about a formerly disciplined church member who had repented and sought reaffirmation to church membership. Some members of the church, believing that this man had not sufficiently felt the weight of his sin, insisted that membership be withheld from him. They were bitter and unforgiving. While Paul exhorted them to put away their bitterness and unforgiveness, he recognised the satanic influence behind it. He wrote, “We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.” Though the bitterness and unforgiveness were in the hearts of human church members, there was a spiritual reality behind it.

Satan loves nothing more than to sow seeds of mistrust, cynicism, suspicion, bitterness, and unforgiveness in the church of Christ. These sinful attitudes are a sure-fire way to destroy the church. We need to recognise the temptation to cynicism as a ploy of the devil and fight back with the truth of the gospel.

Similarly, while there is no warrant in Scripture to find demons of particular sins, your temptation to sin is spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare shows itself in marriages when husbands are tempted to not love their wives and wives tempted to not respect their husbands. Spiritual warfare shows itself in childrearing when parents are tempted to frustrate their children and children are tempted to disregard their parents. Spiritual warfare shows itself in the struggle for sexual purity when we are tempted to break or sexually pre-empt our marriage vows. Satan knows what it will take to bring down a Christian and a Christian church and will do what he must. We must be on guard.

The Content of the Coming Conflict

The battleground on which Judah would fight the devil for the next few centuries was a political one. The messenger had pulled back the curtain to reveal spiritual realities behind the political intrigue that God’s people were facing. In 11:2–12:3, the messenger showed Daniel “truth” (11:2) about political events spanning the next few centuries.

As I have said, this chapter contains some of the most detailed prophecy in all of Scripture, which was incredibly fulfilled in the political world between the time of Daniel and the coming of Christ. The bulk of it (11:5–35) concerns ongoing war between Egypt (king of the south) and Syria (king of the north) and then the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but there are also briefer allusions to the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great.

It is impossible in the time we have to explain each verse in detail. Instead, I will give a taste by addressing the prophecies of the first half of the chapter and then summarise the second half before trying to draw some important principles from the prophecy. In essence, the prophecy can be divided into three broad sections: (1) prophecies concerning Persia and Greece (11:2–4); (2) prophecies concerning Syria and Egypt (11:5–20); and (3) prophecies concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes (11:21–12:3).

Prophecies Concerning Persia and Greece

First, the messenger offered prophecies concerning Persia (in power when the messenger spoke) and Greece (the next major world power to arise).

And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these.

(Daniel 11:2–4)

The present king of Persia was Cyrus the Great. The “three more kings” to “arise in Persia” were Cambyses (530–522 BC), Bardiya (522 BC) (an imposter pretending to be Cambyses’s murdered son, Smerdis), and Darius the Great (522–486 BC). The “fourth,” who would be “far richer” and “become strong through his riches” was Xerxes (486–465 BC), who, when he had consolidated his own kingdom, invaded “the kingdom of Greece.”

The “mighty king” who “shall arise” was Alexander the Great, who indeed “rule[d] with great dominion and [did] as he will[ed].”

When Alexander reached the peak of his power, he died and his kingdom was “divided” into four, but none of it went to his own “posterity” (children) and none of his successors ruled “according to the authority with which he ruled.” His kingdom was divided among his four generals: Antigonus, Cassander, Ptolemy, and Seleucus.

Prophecies Concerning Syria and Egypt

Next, the messenger gave prophecies concerning Syria and Egypt, two parts of Alexander’s divided kingdom. Ptolemy had been appointed over Egypt (to the south of Jerusalem) and Seleucus had been handed Syria (to the north of Jerusalem). These two kingdoms became known in this prophecy as the king of the south (Egypt) and the king of the north (Syria).

Then the king of the south shall be strong, but one of his princes shall be stronger than he and shall rule, and his authority shall be a great authority. After some years they shall make an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement. But she shall not retain the strength of her arm, and he and his arm shall not endure, but she shall be given up, and her attendants, he who fathered her, and he who supported her in those times.

(Daniel 11:5–6)

Alexander gave Ptolemy (“the king of the south”) the land of Egypt, which lies south of Jerusalem, and Seleucus (“the king of the north”) Syria, which lies north of Jerusalem. Ptolemy was “strong” but Seleucus—“one of [Alexander’s] princes”—was “stronger” and ruled “great authority.”

“After some years” the northern and southern kingdoms made “an alliance” when Berenice, daughter of the Egyptian leader (Ptolemy II), married the Syrian leader (Antiochus II). Though this marriage was arranged to obvious political advantage, Antiochus II already had a wife, who did not take kindly to being divorced and banished. From her place of exile, she managed to arrange for Berenice and her infant son to be assassinated. In this way, “the daughter of the king” did “not retain the strength of her arm.”

In the end, the alliance did not work as it had been intended. Berenice’s father (“he who fathered her”) died shortly after she did and her brother, Ptolemy III took the throne.

And from a branch from her roots one shall arise in his place. He shall come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north, and he shall deal with them and shall prevail. He shall also carry off to Egypt their gods with their metal images and their precious vessels of silver and gold, and for some years he shall refrain from attacking the king of the north. Then the latter shall come into the realm of the king of the south but shall return to his own land.

(Daniel 11:7–9)

When Ptolemy III (“a branch from her roots”) was appointed king he invaded Syria (“the fortress of the king of the north”) to avenge his sister’s death. He defeated Syria in battle. Decades earlier, the Persian King Cambyses had invaded Egypt and taken many of its idols and treasures back to Syria. Ptolemy III brought these “gods with their metal images and their precious vessels of silver and gold” back to Egypt, where he was received with great rejoicing. A time of extended peace followed between Egypt and Syria in which Egypt “refrain[ed] from attacking” Syria.

About ten years later, Seleucus II (“the latter”—i.e. the king of the north) invaded Egyptian held territory in Syria (“the king of the south”), seizing it back. Rather than extending his attack into Egypt itself, he was content to “return to his own land,” having recaptured Syrian territory.

His sons shall wage war and assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall keep coming and overflow and pass through, and again shall carry the war as far as his fortress. Then the king of the south, moved with rage, shall come out and fight against the king of the north. And he shall raise a great multitude, but it shall be given into his hand. And when the multitude is taken away, his heart shall be exalted, and he shall cast down tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail. For the king of the north shall again raise a multitude, greater than the first. And after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies.

(Daniel 11:10–13)

Seleucus II’s sons (Seleucus III and Antiochus III) were men of war. Both “wage[d] war” on surrounding empires with “a multitude of great forces.” Eventually, Antiochus III launched an expedition against Phoenicia and Palestine, which were both under Egyptian control (“his [the king of the south’s] fortress”).

“Moved with rage” at the expansion of Syria’s empire, Ptolemy IV, then “king of the south,” marched out to meet Antiochus III, “the king of the north.” “The king of the north” mustered “a great multitude” but Egypt’s far smaller army won a decisive battle.

“The multitude was taken away” when Syria ceded Phoenicia and Palestine to Egypt but Antiochus III, “king of the north,” temporarily turned his military exploits elsewhere and “cast down tens of thousands.”

When Ptolemy IV died in Egypt, he left his four-year-old son (Ptolemy V) in his place. Antiochus III, “the king of the north,” then decided to attack Egypt again. He raised “a multitude, greater than the first” and marched against Egypt “with a great army and abundant supplies.”

In those times many shall rise against the king of the south, and the violent among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfil the vision, but they shall fail. Then the king of the north shall come and throw up siegeworks and take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the south shall not stand, or even his best troops, for there shall be no strength to stand. But he who comes against him shall do as he wills, and none shall stand before him. And he shall stand in the glorious land, with destruction in his hand. He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and he shall bring terms of an agreement and perform them. He shall give him the daughter of women to destroy the kingdom, but it shall not stand or be to his advantage. Afterward he shall turn his face to the coastlands and shall capture many of them, but a commander shall put an end to his insolence. Indeed, he shall turn his insolence back upon him. Then he shall turn his face back toward the fortresses of his own land, but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found.

(Daniel 11:14–19)

“In those times” (i.e. during Syria’s invasion of Egypt) many revolted against Egyptian authority, including some of the pro-Syria Jews in Jerusalem (“the violent among your own people”). The pro-Syria Jews “fail[ed]” when Egypt, under the leadership of General Scopas, attacked Jerusalem to quell the uprising.

Meanwhile, witnessing the Egyptian attack on Jerusalem, Syria sent help. Egypt was forced to withdraw to Sidon, “a well-fortified city.” Syria, “the king of the north,” attacked Egypt at Sidon with “siegeworks” and “the forces of the south” and “even his best troops” were unable to “stand.” Antiochus III overthrew the Egyptian army there.

Having defeated Egypt, Antiochus III grew in power and began to “do as he will[ed].” He became known as Antiochus the Great, and no one was able to “stand before him.” Many Jews in Jerusalem welcomed him as a liberator, having cast off Egyptian authority. He therefore stood “in the glorious land” and, “with destruction in his hand,” executed any pro-Egyptians he could find.

“Set[ting] his face” to expand “the strength of his whole kingdom,” the king of the north brought “terms of an agreement” to the king of the south. He sealed this agreement by giving his “daughter,” Cleopatra, to the Egyptian king as wife. In doing so, he intended to “destroy the kingdom” from within as his daughter worked to gain power to her father’s advantage. His plan failed “to stand or to be to his advantage,” however, because Cleopatra became sympathetic toward her husband and helped to consolidate Egyptian power.

Meanwhile, Antiochus the Great turned his military ambitions elsewhere. He began an extensive military campaign to extend his empire, by attacking and capturing many “coastlands.” His victims eventually sought help from the growing power of Rome. A Roman “commander” named Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus comprehensively defeated Antiochus the Great. He dismantled Antiochus the Great’s army, took hostages back to Rome (including Antiochus the Great’s son, Antiochus IV), and exacted heavy taxes on Syria. Indeed, he turned Antiochus the Great’s “insolence back on him.”

After a few years, Antiochus the Great’s treasury had been depleted, but he still owed taxes to Rome. He therefore “turn[ed] his face back toward the fortresses of his own land.” He discovered a temple of Bel that housed great treasure. He sought to pillage the temple to pay tax but the Bel worshippers resisted and eventually killed him. He “stumble[d] and f[e]ll, and [could] not be found.”

Then shall arise in his place one who shall send an exactor of tribute for the glory of the kingdom. But within a few days he shall be broken, neither in anger nor in battle.

(Daniel 11:20)

Antiochus the Great was succeeded by his eldest son, Seleucus IV, who was required to continue paying taxes to Rome. With a depleted treasury, he began searching for solutions. When he heard that there was great wealth at the temple in Jerusalem—“the glory of the kingdom”—he sent Heliodorus, “an exactor of tribute,” to pillage the temple. Heliodorus never did. “Within a few days” he received a vision of angels assaulting and flogging him and, fearing for his life, he returned emptyhanded, “neither in anger nor in battle.” He never attacked Jerusalem.

Prophecies Concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes

I trust that, by now, you can see how minutely the prophecy, given centuries before the events themselves, was fulfilled. We will cover the next section far more briefly.

In his place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries. Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant. And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully, and he shall become strong with a small people. Without warning he shall come into the richest parts of the province, and he shall do what neither his fathers nor his fathers’ fathers have done, scattering among them plunder, spoil, and goods. He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time. And he shall stir up his power and his heart against the king of the south with a great army. And the king of the south shall wage war with an exceedingly great and mighty army, but he shall not stand, for plots shall be devised against him. Even those who eat his food shall break him. His army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. And as for the two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail, for the end is yet to be at the time appointed. And he shall return to his land with great wealth, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. And he shall work his will and return to his own land.

 

At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before. For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.

 

(Daniel 11:21–35)

These verses prophesy the rise of “a contemptible person to whom majesty has not been given.” When Seleucus IV died, his son (Demetrius I) ought to have taken the throne. His younger brother, however, conspired to seize the throne. His name was Antiochus IV.

We spoke about Antiochus IV (also known as Antiochus Epiphanes) in our consideration of chapter 8. He was a particularly notorious opponent of God’s people in Jerusalem.

Antiochus IV adopted a strategy of deceit. He would offer friendship and alliance to put himself in a political advantageous position before betraying the alliance to his own benefit. He reinstated war against Egypt (the king of the south) but this time Jerusalem was caught in the crosshairs. A series of events unfolded in which Jews desiring the office of high priest paid Antiochus IV to depose existing high priests and install them to the position. Antiochus IV was happy to receive the money but eventually the conniving became so irksome that he decided to completely wipe out the Jewish religion.

He attacked Jerusalem, killing eighty thousand people and desecrating the temple by erecting a statue of Jupiter in the holy place and sacrificing a pig on the altar. In this way he took “action against the holy covenant.” For three-and-a-half years, the sacrificial system was suspended and the Jews were forced to pay heavy taxes to Syria, until the Maccabean family stood firm to take action (11:32). This family of faithful Yahweh-worshippers revolted and restored temple worship.

The prophecy until this point finds clear fulfilment in Persia, Greece, Syria and Egypt, and Antiochus IV Epiphanes. From 11:36–12:3, things change a little. It is commonly agreed that it is difficult to find fulfilment for these verses in Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This has led to four broad conclusions.

First, some have concluded that, while 11:2–35 were written after the events they record, pretending to be prophecy, the author at this point attempted (but failed) actual prophecy. Second, some have assumed that these verses refer to an Antichrist figure who is yet in our future, whom Antiochus IV Epiphanes only prefigured. Third, some have seen these verses fulfilled in the Roman Empire and its Caesars. Fourth, some have concluded that, even if we cannot (at this point) pinpoint precise fulfilments in the life of Antiochus, these verses are consistent with his character and behaviour. I favour this fourth interpretation, though I freely admit that these verses are not without difficulty.

And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these. A god whom his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He shall deal with the strongest fortresses with the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall load with honor. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price.

At the time of the end, the king of the south shall attack him, but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. And he shall come into countries and shall overflow and pass through. He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites. He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, and the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train. But news from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction. And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him.

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

(Daniel 11:36–12:3)

It is particularly 11:40–43 that cause difficulty because of lack of historical support. However, the reference to Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s sudden departure to the east and his death there is well attested.

During all these events, “Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people” would stand and fight. It would be a time of unprecedented trouble for God’s people, but they would “be delivered.” Via Michael, God would fight for his faithful people—“everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”

Of course, not all of these would survive the troubling times. Many of the faithful would be killed for their faith. But the messenger had a promise for them: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (12:2–4). Death would not be the end for those who gave their lives for their faith. They were promised a glorious resurrection “to everlasting life,” even as God’s enemies were promised “shame and everlasting contempt.”

The Conclusions from the Coming Conflict

We will consider the closing verses of the chapter and, indeed, the book next time. For now, consider a few more principles we can glean from this extended text. As we do so, we want to remember the overriding theme of Daniel: divine sovereignty. When we read this book, we are meant to walk away impressed that God is sovereign and we are not. How do we see this in this text? Let me suggest three areas in which this prophecy highlights divine sovereignty.

God of Time

First, the coming conflict shows that God is sovereign in time. God sent his messenger with this prophecy in the third year of Cyrus, which was about 536 BC. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the last figure in the prophecy, died in 164 BC. The “word” (10:1), in other words, was given to Daniel more than three hundred years before it was fulfilled. To be sure, some of the fulfilment was closer to Daniel’s time, but some lay in his distant future. That is, in fact, why Daniel was told to “shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end” (12:4).

God, of course, has no trouble seeing what will happen in the future, for he is the God of time. He sees and knows the end from the beginning and can reveal it to his servants as he chooses. But this is not true only of big events on the world stage but also of every little detail of your life.

We tend to get frustrated when things don’t go according to our time schedule. It takes too long for God to heal us, or to save our loved one, or to produce holiness in us. We don’t understand why God allows things to happen to us at the most inconvenient times. We do well to learn from Daniel 11 that God is sovereign over the greatest event of world history and the minutest event in your life.

Of course, even the most significant event in world history happened at just the right time. Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5). God sent Christ at precisely the right time to fulfil his redemptive purposes. God is never early. God is never late. We should rejoice in that.

God of War

Second, the coming conflict shows that God is sovereign in war. As we have seen, this closing section portrays the reality of spiritual warfare. But we must note carefully what we see. When we think of war, we tend to think of two sides fighting against each other in a desperate bid to emerge victorious, but victory is usually in the air. Not so in this text.

When things seemed to be getting out of control, Michael stepped in to win a decisive victory. He brought relief to the messenger sent to Daniel and he is the one who stood for God’s people in their most trying of days. The victory was secured because Michael—“one who is like God”—stood for God’s people.

Many interpreters believe that Michael is Christ himself. Even if that is not the case, we discover here that God provided everything that was necessary for his people to prove decisive in victory. He fights for his people. We never enter battle alone.

Of course, God’s most decisive victory in the spiritual war was won by dying, not by killing. The very first prophecy in Scripture showed that Christ needed to be struck to crush the serpent’s head. Sin dealt Christ a death blow on the cross, but his resurrection proved that he was victorious over sin and death. And he continues to fight for his people, and will continue to fight for them, until every enemy, even death itself, is brought into subjection to him. We can wage war confidently because we know that God is on our side. As he fought for his people at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:14), so he fights for his people today.

God of Redemption

Third, the coming conflict shows that God is sovereign in redemption. The messenger assured Daniel and his readers that “everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” would “be delivered” (12:1). Even death cannot prevent the ultimate redemption of those whose names are written in the book because there is a promise of resurrection to eternal life for every one of them.

God is sovereign in salvation. In Christ, he has purchased eternal salvation for all who believe in him. All those who embrace the wisdom of God in Christ will be clothed with Christ’s radiant righteousness; and those who have a passion to lead others to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever.

The point is straightforward: God will save his people in Christ, and nothing—not even death itself—will prevent their ultimate redemption. Along the way, everything that happens, even our most dreadful affliction, serves to make us more like Christ until that day when God fully glorifies everyone whom he has justified (Romans 8:28–30).

Conclusion

Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. But if your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, you know that you will ultimately get eternal life and perfect Christlikeness. Is your name written in that book?

AMEN