War brings out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best of humanity War is horrific and sad, but people can rise to the challenge and show great courage under fire.
That’s why so many of our movies are set in times of war. We’re captured by heroic war stories. Take a recent movie like ‘Dunkirk’. It tells the true story of ordinary Brits sailing their own private boats across the English Channel to the beach at Dunkirk to evacuate trapped soldiers. Many boats, completely unarmed, sailed into a war zone. 850 private boats were used. And they helped rescue a third of a million British and French troops. It’s an example of people rising to the challenge!
Our fantasy movies are also set in war zones: think of Star Wars obviously, the Hunger games, Lord of the Rings, and the endless list of Marvel films. Filmmakers do this because in a war zone, the characters can step up. We see resolve, courage, and wisdom. Even the footy finals advertising uses the language of a battle.
We’re relaxed and feel safe. But I want to spoil that and say to you that we are living in a war zone. We’re going to need every inch of our resolve, courage, and wisdom—with God’s help—to make it through.
We’ve made it to the last scene of the book of Daniel the Prophet. It is a scene of war. In chapter 10 verse 1 we read about a revelation given to Daniel. It was a true message and concerned a great war. It was one heck of a war. There were angels and demons, ages and empires, conquest and rebellion, violence and seduction, abominations that cause desolation, death and resurrection.
It is a picture of the world we live in. How can we make it through? And who are the heroes that will shine in the darkness?
Chapters 10 to 12 is one exciting vision. It was a vision that Jesus clearly had read, quoted, and lived out. Daniel chapter 10 covers the war in the heavens. Chapter 11 covers the war on earth that continued for four centuries after Daniel. The last part of chapter 11 and into chapter 12 takes us all the way to the end of history. This vision has a clear message for us. It tells us how to live with wisdom in a war zone.
(1) War in the Heavens (Daniel 10)
It is 537 BC. God reveals something of the future to Daniel, and it is not pretty. Daniel’s response, just like we’ve seen again and again, is to humble himself and pray for understanding, and God responded to his prayer big time, verses 2 to 6:
At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. […] I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. (NIV)
How would you like this answer to prayer? Daniel has seen dreams and visions before, but he is not seen anything like this! An angel turns up, and the encounter is devastating and overwhelming. Daniel needs angelic CPR to stand him up and receive the message. We’ll get to the vision in a second, but first notice this glimpse of an unseen spiritual war, verses 12 to 13:
Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.” (NIV)
Daniel received the revelation mentioned in verse 1 about a great war. He then mourned and fasted three weeks for understanding. And now we find out why the answer was so long coming. The angel was resisted by the prince of the Persian Kingdom for those three weeks. The angel had to stay where he was until the angel Michael arrived to replace him, and so only then could he come to Daniel.
What does it mean to say that this mighty angel was “resisted by the prince of Persia’? We’ve seen powerful earthly kingdoms in the book of Daniel—Babylon and Persia—but now we find that behind these kingdoms lurk powerful demons, princes in the spiritual realms. Look at verse 20:
So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come […]” (NIV)
The angel of the LORD will return to fight the Persian demon. Then later, the fight will move to the prince of Greece, when they rise to be the next superpower. There are good guys too: Michael, the guardian angel of Israel, is one of them. And we met Gabriel in Daniel chapters 8 and 9. There is an unseen war going on. And we need to know about it. We need to know we live in a war zone. Life is not about just about long weekends, and footy games, and the day to day. We live in a cosmic battle zone, where God is opposed, and where angels fight for your future. (Does this feel weird to you? It does, doesn’t it?) But the very fact that we don’t think much about demons indicates that the angels are still doing their job, protecting us.
Every now and again we get a glimpse of what is going on in the spiritual realm, just as Daniel did here. When we were missionaries in Thailand, I worked with Pastor Rittidet. He was from the Hmong Tribe. One time he went to visit his older sister’s family in her Hmong village. While there, they were eating in the kitchen, when the local spirit doctor, the witch doctor, dropped by. He came regularly to speak with the spirits in the house and bring protection. Rittidet’s sister would pay him to do that. So the witch doctor tried to contact the spirits in the house. But perplexed, he came into the kitchen and asked who Riddidet and his wife were. He said that for some reason he couldn’t contact the spirits like normal. When told that they were Christians, he left saying that he would come back later. The power of God in Rittidet and his wife was greater than the spirits!
What are we to make of this spiritual battle? Do we fear? Do we fight? Do we forget it? Let me give you a lightening summary of the Bible’s teaching on demons and spiritual forces. Here are five points.
First, God made them. The principalities and powers, including the devil their ruler, were made by Jesus for Jesus, just like everything else in all creation. Jesus is actually their boss, though they resist that (Col 1:16; Rom 8:38-39).
Second, they then fell. Jesus said that Satan used to have a place in heaven. At some time, way back, Satan and some angels with him fell, setting themselves up in rebellion against God. Here in Daniel chapter 10, we see what this opposition to God looks like, as they try to use earthly kingdoms like Persia and Greece to crush God’s people.
Third, Christ has beaten them all: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). We see Jesus defeating Satan through his death and resurrection. So Colossians 2:15 says “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Fourth, they are angry and hostile: think of Al Qaeda. It’s basically defeated, Osama Bin Laden is long since dead, but the remaining terrorists will kill at any opportunity. They are defeated but still dangerous. Similarly, the devil still prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The lion may have had his teeth ripped out by Jesus’ death, but he still roars and looks for easy prey. He will bother us at any opportunity. Our struggle as Christians “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:10). So as Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (NIV)
Fifth, they will be overthrown soon. Although demons continue to make war on the saints, their time will soon be up. In Revelation chapter 20, we see Satan thrown into the lake of fire once and for all.
So what do we do with this knowledge? Know this: that there will be demons at work in our city right now. They are busy with schemes—as Ephesians 6 puts it—schemes to stop the good news of Jesus’ power and salvation going out, schemes to move sport and birthday parties on Sundays to keep you away from here, schemes to turn public opinion against us through universities or the media, schemes to normalise any view of sex other than God’s, to persecute Jesus’ people or to make us so comfortable that that we don’t care about eternal life.
So what should we do? Imaginative people over the years have said that we should battle these so called ‘territorial spirits’ using special prayer techniques. But Ephesians 6 tells us what to do, and it is actually very simple. We’re told to put on the armour of God. And the simplest summary I can give of that is to stick with Jesus, and just hold the ground that Jesus has won for you. Keep your Bible open, keep praying, be godly, keep the faith. We resist the devil by holding tight to Jesus who defeated him. What Daniel chapter 10 shows us is that the battle is real. And as we move to Daniel chapter 11, we see that the battle plays out on earth too, in very human earthly wars.
(2) War on Earth (Daniel 11)
Daniel chapter 11 is one of the most detailed prophecies in the Bible. It is stunning in its accuracy. And that would have been a huge comfort for God’s people as they walked through the centuries from Daniel to Jesus, ticking off one prophecy fulfilled after another. Delve into the detail here and you’ll find Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, and treaties and battles between the Syrians in the North and the Egyptians in the South. Smart people have matched up the kings and times and places. It is that accurate. What was awesome for Israel was that they knew that their God is in control. They were a tiny nation caught like a ping-pong ball between world powers. But not only do they have mighty angels protecting them as we saw, but they have a God who controls the rise and fall of kings with totally predictability. He has the upper hand in history.
What was especially important for Israel was the warning of a particular terrible king who would pour out his hatred on Israel, verse 28:
The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country. (NIV)
This is the infamous Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Epiphanes means ‘god manifest’, and he thought he was God. Antiochus is a long name, so lets nickname him king ‘Anti’. In 169 BC, king Anti plundered the Jewish temple and massacred many Jews, verse 31:
His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. (NIV)
He forced the Jews to stop practicing their religion, and set up an altar to Zeus on top of the Jewish temple altar. It was an abomination! What God was doing here in giving this prophecy to Daniel was preparing his people for this horrendous time ahead, so that they could remain faithful in this earthly war zone, even when it reached the altar of their own temple. There will be war on earth, and there will be warlords like this guy. Forewarned is forearmed. But what does this mean for us you say?
Daniel chapter 11:36 till the end of the book answers that question. We are warned there will be lots of King ‘Antis’—warlords that the New Testament will call ‘Anti-Christs’. And this is what they’ll be like, verses 36 to 41:
The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. […] He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. He will also invade the Beautiful Land. […] Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him. (NIV)
This is Herod, Stalin, Hitler, and Chairman Mao. We’re told that there will be many antichrists, leading up till a final evil antichrist. But note that each will find their end. Such figures will be awful, but their days are determined and limited by God.
I love trucks. Big trucks have speed limiters. The trucks can go at 100kph but no more. If you drive behind them you see their brake lights flashing when they reach that speed. Forty tonne of truck can be dangerous at any speed but the speed limiter means they can’t do 130kph and wipe out a family in their car on holidays. Please know that whatever evil king or queen or president comes to power in our world, their days are limited. God will put their brakes on. He is in charge.
We saw it with king Nebuchadnezzar earlier in Daniel. He was sent out to eat grass like an ox. God puts the brakes on evil rulers, no matter who they think they are. The battle is real. We live in a war zone, and behind earthly warlords and their armies stand demonic powers.
(3) The End of History (Daniel 12)
So we need wisdom in a war zone. And Daniel chapter 12 gives it in spades.
Firstly, we are told that the distress is only for a time. War and abominations will test us to the very limit, a refining fire showing who is true to the Lord. But God will step in at the right time. Jesus will return. In the book of Daniel, symbolic numbers are used to show that God has set a limited time for this war to play out. This painful world will not go on as is forever. There will be an end of days, when God no longer simply limits the speed of the truck, but brings it to a complete halt.
Secondly, salvation and judgment are coming. Let me read you some of Jesus’ favourite Old Testament verses, from Daniel chapter 12 verses 1 to 2:
There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (NIV)
Jesus quotes just about every word here. They spell out what his life on earth was all about. He came to win the war, and deliver us. His death was the distress to solve your distress. His resurrection life can put your name in the book of life. His exaltation as the Son of Man to God’s right hand makes him your judge. A day is coming when all those who have died will rise to one of two destinies, either everlasting life with Jesus, or everlasting contempt and shame with Satan.
When we say ashes to ashes and dust to dust at a funeral, we are not committing someone to their final resting place. It is as if we are committing them to sleep. The word ‘cemetery’ actually means ‘sleeping place’, which is spot on! The meaning comes from this verse! All, everybody, will ‘awake’ in renewed bodies, and rise to stand before the judge.
How can you survive? You can survive only with Jesus. He is our war hero. He smashed the enemy’s defenses. He disarmed the warlord and can safely usher you into glory. So let me ask you, When we talk of angels and demons and the battle for good and evil, whose side do you think you are on? I think we all immediately assume we’re on God’s side. But we don’t start life that way! Since Adam and Eve, everyone is born an enemy of God. The nature of sin is that we have the spirit of the anti-Christ in us. We want to be like God. “I’ll do what feels right for me, I’m my own person, I don’t need no one to tell me what to do.” If that is still you, then you need to take action! It is time to wave the white flag, get out of your trenches, and come over to him. Jesus welcomes all who come to him for pardon. He loves you and wants you back. Pray to him today, wave the white flag, and come home.
Daniel’s wisdom for us is, first, that the distress is only for a time. Second, salvation and judgment are coming. Then third, in verse 3, we are to shine!
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (NIV)
Have you ever been to the outback and looked up at the night sky? The blacker the sky the brighter the stars. You can see the whole Milky Way, the planets, and every shooting star. And you feel so little. The darkness of a war zone is our opportunity to shine.
Who do you know who shines like that? Who do you want to be like?
Well, we’ve all got to know Daniel this term! He shines. He is wise, and God used his integrity, prayerfulness, faith, and loyalty to change the hearts of kings. God used him to be the light of God in the darkness of Babylon, to lead many to righteousness. Will you pray with me that you too would shine, that we would shine together as a church? MBM is not a club. It is not a place to come to on a quiet weekend when not much is happening. We are an army, on the march through the darkness of Western Sydney. We are armed with the light of the gospel of Jesus, our commander, who said, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. We are soldiers of righteousness with a message of righteousness through Jesus.
You live in a war zone, but Jesus is our war hero, so that we can shine.
So wouldn’t you want to turn up regularly to training here on Sundays? Wouldn’t you want to pray daily for our mission? Wouldn’t you want to walk in Daniel’s footsteps and lead many to righteousness? For we know our future is to shine like stars with Jesus into eternity.
Let’s pray for that.