War. It's one of the ugliest and scariest parts of human existence. In very recent history, we learned just how destructive it is when human beings put their whole efforts into waging war. We have the power to destroy the world as we know it, and it is a truly terrifying truth.
And yet, we cannot seem to get enough of war. From Captain American: Civil War, to the shocking and enormously popular events of Avengers: Infinity War, modern culture has continued the long human tradition of telling stories about heroes, friendship, ethics, spirituality, and worldview while using war as the setting. Stories of supernatural beings fighting against each other for the fate of humanity, and indeed the fate of the whole universe, are regular and exciting stories, and they give shape to our discussions on what is right and wrong. In Civil War, did you agree with Captain America and his belief in individual freedom, or with Iron Man and his strong sense of collective responsibility? Did Thanos have a point when it comes to resources and survival, or was he fundamentally mistaken?
But warfare is not only a human reality and it is not just a story that we make up based on natural human experience. Warfare is a spiritual reality first, and the wars we see in this world - whether real or fictitious - are reflections of a bigger war going on around us. We can either choose to see it, or to ignore it, but it is there.
In the last three chapters of Daniel (10-12), we see Spiritual beings at war. In a vision, Daniel sees the future, which he describes as "events certain to happen in the future—times of war and great hardship" (Daniel 10:1 NLT). Daniel tells us that at the time of this vision, he had been fasting, mourning, and praying for three weeks, asking God to give him understanding regarding what would happen to his people. Suddenly, Daniel is shown a vision of a startling supernatural figure - "a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people." (Daniel 10:5-6)
This mysterious glowing figure startles and shocks Daniel, and for a moment he is not able to even look at him. But a "man," who turns out to be the angel Gabriel, helps Daniel regain his composure and begins to explain what is going on.
He tells Daniel that from the moment the prophet had begun to pray three weeks ago, God had sent him to bring a message that would answer that prayer. However, something happened along the way. Gabriel says, "But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:13-14)
Gabriel goes on to give Daniel lots of information about future world events, and the next two chapters contain even more visions and predictions about the future. But one of the most fascinating parts of this story is the relationship between the human kingdoms on earth and the spiritual powers connected to them. Gabriel describes the Persian empire as having a spiritual "Prince" reigning over it. In order for him, an angel, to get a message to a Jewish person living as a subject of the Persian empire, he had to first fight against the Spirit Prince who ruled over the territory of Persia.
If this language sounds strange or almost cartoonish to you, that is understandable. So much of western fantasy and science fiction draws on the language and imagery of the Bible, whether intentionally or unintentionally. For many of this, this kind of language seems too fantastical to be realistic. And yet, many of us have already become familiar with these Spirit Princes under other names: angels and demons.
Now, angels are not little babies on clouds playing harps. From this chapter, Daniel describes Gabriel as looking like a regular man. Assumedly, the counterparts to these angelic beings on the opposite side of the war also look quite similar. But they are much different in terms of power and the dimension of reality that they operate in.
So Gabriel was involved in a great battle in the spiritual dimension before he could reach Daniel. And he wouldn't have made it if it had not been for the help of Michael, another Prince, although one who is higher in rank (chief), and who we later find out is specifically the prince of Daniel's people, Israel (Daniel 10:21b, 12:1). Gabriel tells Daniel that after their conversation, he will have to return to the place where he left Michael and the Prince of Persia in combat, and that later on the Prince of the Greek kingdom would join the battle.
Daniel is further warned that this war would spill over into the human world. He explained many things that would happen to the Persian Empire, and eventually to the rising power of the Greeks as well. Daniel foresaw kings and empires from all over the world, north to south, rising up and opposing God and his people, creating violence and fear everywhere.
Gabriel’s predictions would come to pass in startling detail. In Daniel 11:4-14 he describes Alexander the Great and his generals. He also predicts the ancient Roman Empire [Daniel 11:15-35 on screen] and the medieval Roman Empire [11:36-45 on screen]. While some of these predictions may have been difficult for people of Daniel’s time to fully understand, today we can look back and clearly see how the message from God clearly foretold how things would take place.
These three chapters of Daniel’s book - 10, 11, and 12 - turn our eyes on the empires of the world and their history. They also reveal a deep biblical truth - that behind the great events, battles, and movements of our world, there are spiritual powers at work, often at war against each other. Some people are following the powers of spirits who are opposed to God, while others are working alongside spirits who fight for God.
Daniel foresaw that near the end of the world, the spiritual being named Michael - who watches over Israel - would “rise up” and raise God’s people from the dead, confronting the powers of evil in a final, decisive victory, and giving eternal life to God’s true followers. Until then, we must be like Daniel and stand firm in our faith, trusting that God’s promises will be on time, just as when he showed Daniel that the Messiah would come.
We learn a valuable lesson from this story about what kind of world we live in. In the midst of human wars, politics, conflicts, and resolutions, humanity and God are not the only players on the field. There are spiritual beings who have claimed authority over nations, places, and people, who are hostile to God and try to oppose his plans. Behind the evil empires of the world, there are evil spiritual forces in an unseen realm, influencing events and people in a dark direction.
It would seem that our superhero movies are not far from the reality of our world. We are actually caught in the middle of supernatural warfare, which actively contributes to the events that take place on earth.
For us today, it is a reminder that we are part of something bigger, and that other human beings are not ever our ultimate enemies. “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10 NLT) The question is, which side will you be on?
When you see the world in chaos around you, remember that God is in control, and that we are in the middle of his plan to let the empires of the world fall to destruction, and to see the Kingdom of God rise up.
- Read Daniel 10:4-9 and take note of the way this figure dressed in linen is described. Compare this description with Revelation 1:9-18. Based on these two passages, can you identify who this figure in Daniel 10 is?
- Take note also of Revelation 1:13. What phrase does John use to describe the being he sees? Compare this with the scene from Daniel 7:13-14. Based on all these passages, what kind of authority and power does this being have?
- In Daniel 12:5-13, we finally get to hear this mysterious figure dressed in linen speak. Read through this passage. Note how he answers questions from both Daniel and the other angels in the vision. Does it seem like this passage means that this figure knows the future? If he does know the future and the angels don't, what does that mean about his identity?
- How do you feel about the way Daniel ends? Daniel asks a question and the response from the mysterious being is basically, "No, don't worry about that, you'll be fine in the end but the rest of this story isn't about you." Does this seem like a satisfactory ending? What questions are you left with at the end?
- Read Daniel 10:12-14. What does this passage tell us about prayer? If Daniel had been praying for three weeks, and the angel that God sent to provide the answer was prevented from doing so by another spiritual being for the entire 21 days, what can that tell us about when our prayers seem to go unanswered?
- Does this seem strange to you? If we are praying to God, why would he choose to answer through other beings, like angels?
- Who do you think Michael is, if he is so much stronger than other angels that he can change the outcome of a stalemate battle, or raise people from the dead (Dan 12:1-2) ? Why is this particularly powerful "prince" specifically assigned to Israel?