This morning we turn to the most difficult chapter in the entire book of Daniel. It is difficult because it is filled with such great detail. Most of what is predicted here can be verified by the facts of history. I believe some of the predictions are still to be fulfilled in the future.
These prophecies are so specific that we again see the skeptics saying these words had to be written after the fact. Since these skeptics reject the supernatural, they have to find some way to explain all this away. We have already shown (in chapter 1) through archaeology that the skeptics are wrong, because we have copies of Daniel dating from before the skeptics say Daniel was even written!
This morning we will only look at a few of the details (I encourage you to examine the passage in depth) because we don’t want to miss the “big picture”. It is important to remember that this vision is given to Daniel about what was going to happen to “his people” (the Jews) in the future. Keep that fact in mind! The focus of the vision is what was going to happen to the Jews. Daniel is not given the history of the whole world . . . it is the history that will relate to the Jews.
The chapter has three “acts” or “scenes” The first tells about the Persian and Greek Empires and how they will relate to Israel. In acts 2 and 3 the focus shifts (I believe) to two individuals: the Greek leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes and then the last act talks about the Antichrist.
Details about the Persian and Greek Empires
First, the angel gave Daniel details about the Persian Kingdom
“Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will appear in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece. (11:2)
The fourth king that was to come was King Xerxes. He was rich and powerful. Because of his power he made a brutal attack against Greece that was never forgotten. There were kings after Xerxes but his attack on Greece was the fuel that motivated the “mighty king” mentioned in verse 3: Alexander the Great.
3 Then a mighty king will appear, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. 4 After he has appeared, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others. (Daniel 11:3-4)
We have already noted the speed at which Alexander conquered the known world. When Alexander died his family did not keep the throne. All his descendants including his wives, children and even distant relatives, were murdered. His kingdom was divided into four parts which were ruled by four different generals.
The vision spotlights two of those divisions and their leaders. Only these two are spotlighted because they involved Israel. The area north of Israel (Syria) was ruled by a family that came to be known as the Seleucids (after the original general named Seleucus). The southern region (Egypt) was ruled by the Ptolemies (named after the General named Ptolemy). Verses 5-20 describe the conflict that continued between the Seleucids (North) and the Ptolemies (south). Israel was caught in a tug of war.
What is amazing about the account is the intricate details. For example we read in verse 6,
After some years, they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be handed over, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.
We know from history that Bernice, Ptolemy’s daughter, was given to the King of the North to seal an alliance. The problem was that the King of the North was already married to a woman named Laodice. The King divorced Laodice to marry Bernice. She had a son who was supposed to take over the Kingdom after his dad which would seal the alliance because he would be related to both kings. However, the King of the north reconciled with his wife Laodice, who then poisoned the King, Bernice, and their child. Note that verse 6 tells us all of this ahead of time!
The war continued and in verse 17 we are given another tidbit,
He will determine to come with the might of his entire kingdom and will make an alliance with the king of the South. And he will give him a daughter in marriage in order to overthrow the kingdom, but his plans will not succeed or help him.
This time it is the King of the North is the one who gives a daughter to the King of the South. This daughter was Cleopatra (the first of a long line of Cleopatras)! This was intended to give the north an advantage. Cleopatra however fell in love with her husband and became loyal to Egypt. All of these events actually happened and every one impacted what was happening in Israel who was caught between in the middle of this Civil War.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes
In the second scene verses 21-28 give us a remarkable and very detailed account of the beginning of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
When the elder Antiochus died, Antiochus IV’s brother was made King. Antiochus IV Epiphanes developed alliances, used his resources to buy power, and then exercised a coup over his own brother! Part of what he gained was the land of Israel.
Antiochus was determined to Hellenize the Jews (get them to adopt the Greek ways and culture). He removed the rightful Jewish High Priest and installed a priest sympathetic to his goals. He outlawed many of the Jewish practices (such as the reading of the Law and circumcision).
When he next fought against Egypt (the Ptolemies) it was a disaster. This time he came face to face with the growing Roman army. We see this predicted in verses 29-30
29 “At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. 30 Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant. (Daniel 11:29-30)
There is a well attested story from that encounter. Antiochus was confronted by the Roman army under the command of Popilius. He demanded that Antiochus IV return to Palestine. Antiochus said he wanted to consult his advisors. Popilius knew that he was just stalling to try to raise a larger army to fight. So, the Roman general drew a circle around Antiochus IV and told him that he and his counselors could meet right there in that circle and decide what they were going to do. However, if he stepped out of the circle without agreeing to return home, he would be executed on the spot.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes was humiliated and took his frustrations out on the Jews. This is exactly what was predicted in verses 31-35. Antiochus massacred tens of thousands. He erected an idol in the temple (probably of Zeus) and offered sacrifices (likely swine) on the altar there. As we have read before, this is called the Abomination of Desolations.
All of this was to let Daniel know that some bad times were still ahead, but God was overseeing it all.
Up until this point in Daniel 11 the details are pretty clear because we see them clearly fulfilled in history. However, from verse 36 to chapter 12:5 the details don’t fit any historical record. Scholars have disagreed on who these words refer to ever since they were written. I believe these verses refer to a future leader which is identified in the New Testament as the Antichrist for three primary reasons,
- Since the preceding verses pointed to literal events, it is reasonable to expect these verses to point to literal events also. We know of nothing in history that has fulfilled these words so I believe they haven’t happened yet.
- In verse 40 we are told that about a war “at the time of the end”. Based on what follows it seems that the end referred to is the end of life as we know it.
- Chapter 12:1-4 continuing the story, refers to the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. This will happen only in the Grand Finale of history.
Why skip all the years in between? Remember, the prophecy concerned the Jews. After the coming of Christ the focus turned to the Gentiles. I believe the Bible tells us that the spotlight will again turn back to Israel. One of the commentators I have long respected is the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice . . . he wrote,
How we handle Daniel 11:36–12:4 will depend in some measure, then, on what we think of the chapters in Ezekiel [38-39] and [the book of] Revelation. But taking them together, I find that they refer to a great world war immediately prior to the Lord’s return. Daniel refers to a great battle between the kings of the North and the South. He mentions Egypt particularly as well as Libya and Nubia. Ezekiel also mentions a group of southern nations, and he speaks of a great northern power in terms that made me think of Russia. These engage in a war, which in Revelation is called Armageddon.
It is important to note that all these suggestions (and those of other prophecy experts: such as Tim La Haye, John Hagee, Joel Rosenberg) are educated conjecture! We must not be too dogmatic. However, we should take notice of the things we are told about this Antichrist and keep our eyes open,
- He will exalt and magnify himself (v. 36)
- He will aggressively oppose belief in God and Christ (36b-37)
- God will allow him to be successful for a season (Revelation even talks about counterfeit miracles) (36)
- He will reward those who support him and seek to destroy those who oppose him (39). In Revelation we read about a “mark of the beast” which is some form of identifying mark on those loyal to this leader.
- He will conquer and control many nations, including Israel (40-43)
- He will establish a base of operations in Israel (45)
- He will be defeated in what is probably the Battle of Armageddon (45)
Read these chapters of Daniel and compare them with what you read in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. It is good to have a general knowledge of some of these prophecies so that we will be better able to recognize the fulfillment when it happens.
The burning question for us is this: “Why are we given all these details?” What are we supposed to learn from all this stuff?” We naturally ask: “So What?”
First, we learn what Daniel also learned: there will be conflict right up to the end of time. We must not get discouraged when there is conflict. We should not despair when we turn on the news. God is in control. He knows the future and is guiding history to its intended end.
The Bible is clear that we are God’s agents in the world. It is our job to proclaim the truth of God’s love and grace. It is our job to uphold God’s standards. It is our job to be His hands and feet in a world that has turned the wrong direction. Because we represent Him in a world growing increasingly hostile to Him . . .they will also be hostile to us. This is not a surprise to God. He remains in control.
Second, we should be encouraged by the detail of the prophecies. One commentator wrote,
“In the first 35 verses there are at least 135 prophecies which have been literally fulfilled and can be corroborated by a study of the history of the period.” Since no human being can know the future (apart from divine inspiration), there must be a God in heaven who revealed these matters.
There are three conclusions for us to draw from this prophetic reality:
First, The God of the Bible is the true God. No other God can tell us the future with such detail and accuracy. Only the true and Supreme God could know the future with such certainty. In the midst of a world with many different religions and gods, the Christian God is the one who stands over all.
Second, the Bible is God’s True Word. As we read and verify these prophecies we see that the Bible is an uncommon book. It purports to be the revelation of God. The accuracy of the prophecies (along with the transforming power of the words) verifies what the Bible says about itself.
We turn to the Bible as the very Word of God! We should read the Bible carefully and fervently because it is unique. It reveals God’s plan and God’s heart. It is not like other books. It is from the mind and heart of God Himself and we should approach it as such.
Third we see that God keeps His promises. What the angel said to Daniel was something that wasn’t going to happen until long after Daniel had left this earth. However, God kept His word then and will about those prophecies yet to come.
If God is shown to be faithful with such magnificent prophecies, we can be confident of His promises to us. Promises such as,
- We can be forgiven through Christ
- He will give us His Spirit to guide us and keep us
- He will supply our needs
- He will hear and answer our prayers
- We will live even though we die
- He will never leave us or forsake us
- He will guide us into all truth
The list could continue. The point is: What God promises, He also delivers. It is important that we read the promises (and any conditions on the promises) carefully so that we are not believing something God has not actually promised. However, when we have understood the promise accurately, we can trust it fully.
Finally, we must ask, in light of these future things, what should we do? A Pastor once preached on Psalm 11:3, which asks: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The preacher asked the question and then answered, “Why, go on being righteous, of course.” I believe this is what Daniel is saying in 11:32: “the people who know their God will firmly resist him”. This is what we have seen in the life of Daniel. He and his friends continued to live God’s way no matter what the government was doing or commanding.
Our job is to do the same thing. Rather than wring our hands about political debates or the moral malaise we see around us, our job is to continue to honor the Lord. We must remain faithful no matter what others do. We must continue to pray for our country and confess our own sin. It is valuable to learn details of prophecy but whether you understand these things fully or not, the strategy is the same: We must do what He says and trust Him with the future.
So the bottom line question for all of us is the same: Who or what will we serve? Will we serve the changing whims of popular opinion? Will we serve contemporary trends? Will we run around in a frantic panic because of world events? Or will we serve the One who knows the future; the One who created the world; the One who loves us and wants us to be His forever? Will we rest in Him?
You can spend the rest of your life poring over details about the end and trying to figure out everything that is going to happen. However, it is easy for faith to become merely an academic pursuit. God is not concerned about whether or not you understand everything about the future; what matters is whether or not you trust Him for whatever the future holds. God has not given us these things as a puzzle to figure out, He has given us these prophesies to show He has a plan and a vision, and that should make us more passionate than ever to stay close to Him. . . no matter what happens.