“Futility From the North and the South” (Daniel 11:2-45)
Listen to the Sermon:
Well this morning we are returning to our study in the Book of Daniel and we’ll be looking from looking at Daniel 11:2-45. Well since it’s been about four weeks or so since we last ventured into Daniel’s prophecy let me reorient us very briefly in where we are at in the prophecy now.
First on a book level we are in the latter half of the book of Daniel. In fact after this chapter we only have one more chapter left before we close out our study in the book Daniel. The main feature these latter texts, Daniel 7 through 12, have in common is their genre they all belong to, the apocalyptic genre of literature. In these chapters of Daniel 7 through 12, Daniel has had the veil pulled back on his present in some texts, and on his future in other texts, to reveal spiritual and historical realities that would otherwise remain concealed.
To narrow in for a moment on specifically Daniel chapter 11, I mentioned last time when we studied Daniel chapter 10 that we are now in the longest vision in the book of Daniel. Throughout the book of Daniel each chapter has basically been one self-contained unit, whether it be a narrative text or a vision. When we hit Daniel chapter 10, we entered the last vision in Daniel and the longest division in Daniel. It’s a vision that encompasses Daniel 10, 11, and 12. The text were looking at this morning, Daniel 11, is really at the heart of that vision.
Now we’ll also see that when we read Daniel 11 and begin to study it that there are a lot of puzzling details that are contained in it. So, for this week I’ve included a sermon guide for your reference that goes into a little bit greater detail into some of the puzzling historical realities in this text. You should be able to access that guide in your email.
So with some of these preliminary matters in mind, let’s without further delay turn to Daniel chapter 11 and read verses 2 through 45. Because this is a longer passage ,I am actually going to read this chapter in parts. and so I’m going to begin with just Daniel 11:2-20, but by the time we finish this passage this morning it will have read the entirety of it.
So first hear now the word of the Lord, Daniel 11:2-20,
2 “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. 3 Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. 4 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.
5 “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. 6 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.
7 “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. 8 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. 9 Then the latter shall come into the realm of the king of the south but shall return to his own land.
10 “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. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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.
14 “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 fulfill the vision, but they shall fail. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.
20 “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 11:2-20, ESV
Because we live in such a connected world, where really with the swipe of a finger we can access world events that are happening halfway around the globe in five minutes after they happen. We have access to social media news about what our friends who live across town are cooking for dinner. Because a full range and full spectrum of information is available to almost all of us on demand, many of us from time to time have suffered from what’s called the fear of missing out, or FOMO as it’s known by its colloquial acronym.
The fear of missing out, if you’re not familiar with it, is as a social anxiety that afflicts us anytime we discover for instance that there’s a party but we haven’t been invited to it, or there’s an inner circle but we were regrettably left on the outside, or even when we see a new and trendy product or vacation being enjoyed by one of our social media friends and we realize that we don’t have that but we will really wish that we did. Well this fear of missing out, in whatever format comes in, can stir up an incapacitating sense of anxiety, insecurity, jealousy, and even anger from time to time.
Well sometimes we experience this fear when we peruse our social media accounts and we see other people in our circle of relationships are up too, and we get jealous of those things in a more profound sense. This fear of missing out can also surface whenever we suspect that our profession of faith is a barrier to enjoying or benefiting from something that the world has to offer. Maybe you’ve been faced with the fear of missing out on a friendship or relationship in the past because of your faith commitments. Maybe you’ve worried about the longevity in your vocation by continuing to hold fast to your confession, even if the only consequences you have experienced are ostracization from the inner circle of influence in the workplace.
Even more basic than all of that maybe you’ve lamented, even if only privately, how your confession and faith commitments have restricted you from participating in things that the world considers normative, and even good. Have you ever feared or lamented just what your faith commitments may cost you?
Well in Daniel 11, for all of the enigmatic details that the angel prophesies in this text, Daniel discovers that the future for his people consists in fears that are not altogether different from these. You see the angel who’s prophesying these things to Daniel tells him that in the future his people are going to be encountering wars and rumors of wars. World powers are going to rage all around them, and some are even going to turn their face directly towards the “glorious land”. With every king and kingdom, God’s people would perpetually be faced with the fearful prospects of just what their faith commitments would cost and whether in fact would be worth it.
At some points in their future, some among God’s people would so fear missing out on influence and prestige that they would actually ally themselves with the powers that be and turn their back on their confession. We see this at one point, even in our text.
Well on the other hand some would remain faithful, even amidst all those pressures. However, that faithfulness would cost them their lives. In the geopolitical wheeling’s and dealings that lie ahead, God’s people would repeatedly be faced with a fearful fork in the road of costly faithfulness or compromise lest they miss out on the promises of the kingdoms of the world. These future prospects that the angel points Daniel to in this text are enough to chill anyone to the bones.
While Daniel sees that fear ahead in the lives of his people, his compatriots, may be great in a whole number of respects, he also sees the God who steers history is far greater. So our big idea this morning is very simply this; The fear ahead from kingdoms is great, but the kingdom of God is greater.
As we work through this admittedly dense passage, we’re going to immerse ourselves in three fearful periods of history that Daniel sees on the horizon for God’s people. Three fearful epochs of time, if you will, that lie ahead. We’re also going to see that in each of these epochs of time there is great hope and great truths to anchor God’s people, even as they’re encircled by fear. So our three points that we’re going to work through are these;
1. A Fearful Future that Lies Ahead
2. A Fearful Figure that Lies Ahead
3. A Fearful Finale Fearful Close to All of It
A Fearful Future that Lies Ahead
When I read the first 20 verses or so of this passage a few minutes ago, you were probably a little bit lost. Well that’s understandable, there are a lot of wars and kings that this angel prophesized about to Daniel in cryptic detail. He moves through these world actors and these events that lie on the horizon with a dizzying kind of pace.
As I mentioned earlier I included this sermon guide that works through some of these details that are prophesized for Daniel. Details, which again, from Daniels perspective lie in the future but from our perspective lie in the past. Hopefully that guide that focuses in on some of that history provides some clarity for you as you work through some of these details yourself in this text. So, because of that I’m not going to work through every single one of the details contained in these first 20 verses in this sermon, but instead I want to give something more akin to a road map. When I hit the high points of this, and hopefully let the sermon guide fill in the rest.
So to begin notice that when we open in verse 2 we hear very first about the kingdom of Persia. Now remember at this point in Daniel, God’s people, including Daniel, are under the reign and rule of the kingdom of Persia. Babylon is off the scene and they’ve been off the scene for about three years by this point. Persia is now the world power that’s in control of Judea and is under king Cyrus, the Persian king who supplanted Babylon three years earlier. The Jews who were in captivity for 70 years or so were released from exile and they were free to return to Judea, free to return back to the land of promise.
So, as Daniel receives this particular vision he, along with his Jewish compatriots, are living under the rule and authority, geopolitically speaking, that is of the kingdom of Persia. Daniel learns in verse 2 that in the future after Cyrus dies, there will be three kings who will arrive and then a fourth who would go out to war against a growing threat to the west, the kingdom of Greece.
Now most commentators believe that this fourth king of Persia refers to King Xerxes, that would be the same character as the from the book of Esther. Now he wasn’t the final king of Persia, but he did go to war with Greece and he lost a decisive battle of Salamis against them, that might be what verse 2 has in mind. For whatever reason the angel isn’t really all that interested in telling us very much about Persia because he only devotes a total of one verse to Persia.
Just as soon as Persia comes on the scene, the angel tells Daniel about another mighty king, a mighty king from Greece who arises. Again, commentators were all virtually agreed on this that this is a prophecy of Alexander the Great, the well-known ruler from history who expanded Greek influence throughout the known world through decisive military victories. As prominent of a king as Alexander the Great was in his own day, he too is only allotted one verse in this text. After Alexander we learn in verse four that his kingdom is divided towards the four winds of heaven and his kingdom is given to others who aren’t related to him.
Now this is likely a reference to what happened after Alexander’s death. When Alexander died, he had two sons who are both assassinated unfortunately. Hhis kingdom, as a result, was parceled out into four parts to the four of his generals. Now from a purely historical standpoint the angel’s summary of Persia and Alexander the Great is somewhat surprising. You see these were significant world players in their own day, with the effects of Alexander the Great’s conquest throughout the known world reverberating for centuries down the line. Yet he’s only allotted here one reference. The angels handling of these future events is actually quite instructive because historically Alexander may have been significant, but through the lens of a long term heavenly perspective that the angel here seems very concerned and interested in, Alexander’s exploits were ultimately in the words of Ecclesiastes “a vanity and a striving after wind”.
In a sense that’s what this passage challenges us, right off the bat, to consider. As we appraise things in the world that we think are so significant, this passage gives us cause right off the bat to question whether from God’s standpoint those things are really as significant as we think. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “the people of God do not view the great ones of this world through the eyes of the media, but through the spectacles of scriptural revelation.”
You see whatever allures or fears that we may face in this world, whatever allures or fears that the world tends to hold before our eyes and however significant history may appraise certain individuals or movements we as the people of God are called first and foremost to appraise all things in view of God’s eternal unchangeable and all sovereign purposes for the world. Ultimately this is one of the lessons that we learn very first here in this passage. Even the geographical references we see in this passage to other kings and kingdoms, where we have this king of the north and king of the south, they all have their reference point in the glorious land.
The history that’s prophesied in this text isn’t concerned then with celebrating the power and influence of some of the greatest individuals and figures who lived at various extremities of the of the knowing world at the time. Instead it’s ultimately concerned with God’s purposes in the world and interpreting all of the historical events with reference to God’s purposes and God’s works.
In order to see that demonstrated further let’s continue to work through this text. So, once we move past Alexander and the division of his kingdom, the angel focuses on two of the four kingdoms that arose after his death. Now remember after Alexander died, his kingdom was divided into four parts. Beginning in verse five the angel is going to focus in on specifically two of those four kingdoms. Two kingdoms that had particular influence over God’s people in Judea for the next several hundred years.
He’s going to tell us about this king and kingdom of the south which refers to the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and that’s a soft “p” Ptolemaic Kingdom, that was based in Egypt. This was the first kingdom that had control over Judea and the Jews who were situated in the Promised Land. Then the angel here is going to tell us about the kingdom and the king of the north, which refers to the Seleucid Kingdom that was based just north of Judea in Syria. Along the way in verses 5 through 35, he’s going to tell us how these kings and kingdoms were often at war with one another and how the glorious land and the people of God were sandwiched between these two competing world powers of the day.
When Daniel receives this vision, God’s people have only been back in the land for roughly three years, but in this vision, he learns of an exceedingly turbulent future and a fearful future that lies ahead for the people of God. In light of these two world powers that would arise, this is the future for God’s people that isn’t altogether pleasant. It’s a future that’s brimming with backstabbings and immoral Gentile rulers vying for power with the Jews in Judea kind of stuck in the center of all of this madness. It’s a future of wars and rumors of wars in the future where God’s people even face the temptation of throwing their luck behind one of the kings and kingdoms or the other king and kingdoms with the hope that maybe one of these kingdoms may be the agent of ushering in God’s promises. That might be what verse 14 in our text refers to.
For God’s people the future that lies ahead for them is a confusing future, it’s a fearful future. So how can they remain faithful amidst all of these threats that lie ahead? Will they be enticed, maybe like some of us are enticed from time to time, to leave their confession at the door when they face the promises that one of these kings and kingdoms or the other king and kingdom offers less they miss out on the security and the comforts of the world. They face a fearful future, but even in this prophetic sketch there are a few things for them and for us to anchor us.
First notice throughout these first twenty verses how much turnover happens. A few commentators in my studies this week pointed it out just how many times the English conjunction “but” occurs in this text. You know it seems throughout just reading this, even if you don’t know any of the historical details, that just as soon as one king or kingdom hatches a plan in pursuit of its own glory, his plans are frustrated, and they come to nothing. It’s as if their plans are always a striving after the wind.
Behind these historical frustrations that continue to rise and continue to turn over, one after another after another, behind all of these we learn in this text that a greater power is also at work. You see all of this maddening turnover is ultimately the outworking of something that we read in Psalm 33:10, namely that the Lord brings the council of the nations to nothing. He frustrates the plans of the people. We will see this especially in the next part of our passage when we turn over to verse 21 through 35.
What we find is that each of these kings are subject to the council and providence of God. The God they might not acknowledge, the God who they might not consider powerful in the world, but the God who nonetheless powerfully rules and governs all things. Keep in mind that the angel who prophesized these things, who we’re introduced to all the way back in Daniel chapter 10, is showing Daniel the truth. He’s speaking from what is called the book of truth, what’s inscribed in the book of truth is God’s eternal decrees. We see then that all of the world powers and events that seem so powerful and dreadful to God’s people in their future are really powers that are subject to God’s purposes.
In that lesson also lies a powerful warning for both Jews in Judea during this confusing and turmoil period of time, and also for you and me as well. You see from within this story each generation of Jews and believers were confronted with the fearful prospect of just how they would endure. Some generations were even faced with a potent temptation of giving in lest they miss out on the freedoms or even life itself.
But this bird’s eye prophetic perspective that’s given to us here in this text reminds us that even though the fears ahead may be great from within this story, when we take a step back and we look from on top of this story, when we take a bird’s eye perspective of this story, we can see that it’s really just a future of maddening futility. Just as soon as one kingdom tries to gain the upper hand, their plots are thwarted and a new power rise.
The lesson then for God’s people is that though there is a fearful future that lies ahead, don’t capitulate, don’t turn your back on your confession, because these earthly realities are ultimately transient and even, they are subject to the eternal God who stands above history. Friends of the same lesson applies to you and me too. You see in a number of ways we may be enamored with what the world has to offer, there are many moments when we find ourselves at a crossroads of compromise or confession. We too may face a variety of fearful prospects in our own vocations or social circles as it relates to our confession of faith, but if we were to look back upon this time 2,500 years from now, just as we’re looking back on this history 2,500 years from that, from then it would be just another confusing series of dates and lists of names too.
That’s certainly not to say that what we do or don’t do in this world doesn’t matter. Nor is it to say that the fears we face are no big deal. Nor is it to say that there’s no purpose in anything that we pursue. That’s not the point. Our decisions are important and faithfulness in this life really does matter, but it is a reminder that the kingdoms that seem so dreadful or intoxicating ultimately come and go, but the kingdom of God endures forever. We may face a fearful future but friends we have a more powerful God.
A Fearful Figure that Lies Ahead
Now once we get past verse 20, the angle transitions from all of this dizzying turnover of kings and kingdoms to zoom in and focus on one particular figure. This leads to our second point second where we encounter a fearful figure. As a for this next point we’re going to look at verses 21 through 35 and so if you have your Bibles please follow along with me as I read it from that text.
21 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. 22 Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant. 23 And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully, and he shall become strong with a small people. 24 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. 25 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. 26 Even those who eat his food shall break him. His army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. 27 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. 28 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.
29 “At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before. 30 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. 31 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. 32 He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. 33 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. 34 When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, 35 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, ESV
So, in verses 2 through 20 the angel covered what amounts to about 350 years, and again keep in mind that this is a prophecy that the angel is pronouncing, whereas we look back upon it as history. Now in verses 21 through 35 the angel pumps the brakes and he focuses on a time that really only amounts to about twelve years or so. He described to Daniel the exploits of what’s called a contemptible person, a king from the north who sweeps armies away, who succumbs to defeats himself and takes out vengeance directly upon the people of God in the glorious land.
Given the connections of this passage with Daniel eight, and how the details seem to correspond pretty well with what we know in history also, virtually all commentators are agreed that once again this figure is entire Antiochus the Fourth, or his nickname was Antiochus Epiphanes which meant God manifest. Now back in Daniel 8, if you remember this, Antiochus Epiphanes was portrayed as this enraged horn from the goat who set himself up against the people of God. Here likewise in Daniel 11, he’s portrayed as a terrifying menace.
Now let me give us a brief background for just a moment. In many respects Antiochus the Fourth wasn’t altogether different from any other tyrant king who arose in history. He took the throne by scheming and murder when he wasn’t even the next one in line. Like I said before, he thought of himself pretty highly because his nickname was Antiochus Epiphanies, which means God manifest.
But other kings did this kind of stuff too. Other kings acquired the throne by wheeling and dealing and by murder. Plenty of other kings considered themselves highly as well. The reason Antiochus is given such so much treatment in this passage, 12 or 15 verses worth of treatment, is because he was known especially for the unique brutality he displayed towards God’s people. This is brutality that comes out throughout this part of our passage.
To say just one example in verses 29 through 35, we have here what amounts to a prophecy of a military campaign that Antiochus undertook at some point against the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the south. Remember Antiochus is king of the north, king of the Seleucid Kingdom, and at one point he undertook a military campaign against the southern kingdom, against the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the south. Now that king and that military pursuit and campaign might be interesting to explore historically in its own right, but of special importance for Daniel’s audience and for us in this text is how that military campaign ended.
You see when Antiochus was a pressing southward during this campaign and was making some nice territorial gains in Egypt, his military actions and ambitions were suddenly halted when he had approached the Egyptian city of Alexandria and he came face-to-face with delegates from a bordering empire from the west known as Rome. The Ptolemaic Kingdom at that time appealed to the Roman Empire for help because of Antiochus and so Rome sent ships, that’s probably what’s referred to here by the ships of Kittim, and they sent a delegation.
This delegation came to Antiochus and they said Antiochus you’re going to go no further and if you do, well you’re going to pay a heavy price. So, Antiochus, realizing that defeat was inevitable was humiliated and he decided just to return home to Syria. Before he got there, he decided to make a pit stop in Judea and Jerusalem and he took out his fury on God’s people. It’s reported that when he first got there, he found some Jews who were sympathetic towards him and his calls, he enlisted them in his service. This might be what verse 30 refers to where we learned that some forsook the holy covenant.
Then in verse 33 where we learned that some apostatized because they were seduced by his flattery. Then after that Antiochus let loose, he massacred many who weren’t his biggest fans. He then banned circumcision, Sabbath observance, and the Torah. He desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by offering up a swine on the altar while rededicating the Jerusalem temple to Zeus in the process. Many among the faithful during this period of time were martyred. This might be what verse 33 refers to where we read that the wise among the people stood firm, but they paid a heavy price in the process.
In summary Antiochus was an awful despot and this was a horrible time in the life of God’s people. Yet even the midst of Antiochus’ terrible reign where he seemingly did whatever he pleased, we see it throughout these verses in our text something we also saw in the previous twenty verses, and that is as one commentator puts it, “he marched to God’s time.”
Notice in this passage we come across this phrase “the appointed time” about three times in verses 27, 29, and then in verse 35. Even though it might have seemed, especially to those who were experiencing this from within the story, that there were no restraints on Antiochus’ resolve to do everything that he wanted to do. Although it may have seemed especially to those experiencing this terror from within that Antiochus was a sovereign who could do whatever it was that he wished, his exploits were nonetheless limited and restrained by God.
Friends in our own day this threat of compromise is always a real danger for the church and for individual Christians. It was apparently, like I just said, a threat for the Jews, especially during Antiochus’ reign. Although the precipitating threat looks different in different times and different cultures, compromise is always an enticing option where we care so deeply about missing out by virtue of being a people of conviction on what the world has to offer.
The promise we have in this passage is even if our confession comes with a great cost, even if we miss out on what the world has to offer, and even like some of these faithful it costs us our very lives, we do not suffer a purposeless cost by remaining faithful to our Lord. You see we learned in this passage, particularly in verse 35, that the same God who appoints these times and seasons, the same God who directs the wheels of history to their appointed end, is the same God who refines and purifies his beleaguered, yet beloved people, even amidst horrible circumstances like persecution.
In my studies this week I found something that a commentator named Ian Dougwood said along these lines particularly insightful Dougwood wrote, “Our view of history is foundational to the way that we live. If history is just an assortment of random circumstances coming from nowhere and going nowhere, then faithful suffering has no possible meaning. It is a waste of life that could have been better spent on pursuing pleasure instead. But if history is actually following God’s predetermined course to a final end, then our actions are filled with meaning. Any sacrifices that are demanded of us will be made more than worthwhile by our hope of glory on the last day.”
When we’re faced with the pressures of compromise and conformity, whether that’s driven by fear or driven by flattery, Daniel encourages us to look not to what we’re potentially missing out on in the world, but on the God whose purposes and pleasures are worth far more than anything that the world could serve up. We look to the one who gives purpose and meaning in our sufferings, and in particular we look to Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews puts it this way in Hebrews 12, “therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Friends there is a great hope in the present in this knowledge that the God who controls times and seasons is the same God who preserves us in and through Jesus Christ in these times and seasons. Our sufferings, in whatever form they take, are therefore not purposeless. These truths are reinforced for us throughout this passage, but this passage also contains a promise. A promise that one day all of these threats to us and to our confession will one day cease.
A Fearful Finale Fearful Close to All of It
This leads to the final part of our passage and the third and finally point, a fearful finale and so now we come to the last verses so follow along with me as I read at verses 36 through 45
36 “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. 37 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. 38 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. 39 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.
40 “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. 41 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. 42 He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 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. 44 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. 45 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.
Daniel 11:36-45, ESV
Now the big question surrounding this final part of our passage, verses 36 through 45, is whether this is just a continuation of the prophecy concerning Antiochus the Fourth, or whether the angel relaying this prophecy to Daniel has advanced forward to a new period of time. In some ways this figure that crops up in the final part of this passage sounds like Antiochus. We even find a king of the south and king of the north language has continued into these final verses. If you thought this was just a continuation of a prophecy concerning Antiochus, well that’s not an unreasonable conclusion and many other scholars reach a similar conclusion.
However, I think there are more persuasive reasons here to believe that the angel has indeed advanced forward in time to narrate the character and the exploits of a final kind of Antichrist figure. Now there are a couple reasons I think the text lends itself to that kind of interpretation. For one, although many of the descriptions that are offered for this figure seem to describe Antiochus and they come quite close to him, others don’t quite fit what we know of Antiochus.
The descriptions offered here seem to go beyond Antiochus in a few important ways. Additionally, when chapter 12 opens up, and we’ll talk about that in a few weeks, it’s also a continuation of this vision. When chapter 12 opens we hear about the final resurrection that arrived from the heels of this figure’s final destruction. This leaves many scholars, all of these pieces, leave many scholars to conclude, and this is rightly I think, that this ruler introduced in verse 36 is a figure connected with the end.
Now let me briefly pause on that to say that when we hear about the Antichrist most of us probably have in mind a very concrete picture. We tend to think of a political end times kind of figure who wages a great military campaign that sweeps over and envelops the entire world. I caution us not to read more into these things than is actually there. You see many of us have been influenced, probably in more ways that we know, by popular perceptions of eschatology, that is end times kind of stuff, that often fail to take into account both the genre and the nature of imagery in which these end times things are often cast in the Bible.
Now that’s not to say that there aren’t real and horrible Christ substitutes that will arise in the future and sway masses and persecute the church, especially before Christ comes again. There are and John even tells us in 1 John 1:18 that many antichrists, Christ substitutes, will rise up throughout history before the final Antichrist. This hopefully explains why I think this figure in verses 36 through 45 that sounds so much like Antiochus.
It’s not necessarily because this final Antichrist figure is going to be an exclusively military and political figure. It’s rather because Antiochus’ character and his exploits are a type of the Antichrist and other antichrists who will come entire. Antiochus, in other words, foreshadows both. Just as Antiochus deified himself, seduced others, and committed himself to inhumane violent exploits, so too will the final Antichrist only more so.
You see the point here isn’t to decode precisely everything that this final figure is going to do, rather it’s to see that if you fell and if you thought Antiochus was bad well, there’s going to be an even more dreadful and fearful Antiochus in the future. That’s the main point here.
Yet as fearful as this final Antichrist might be, this final manifestation of evil, whatever it looks like, in the end the finale is ultimately anticlimactic. We read at the end of verse 45 this, “and he shall come to his end with none to help him.” That’s it. There’s no great Hollywood ending where the hero and the villain duke it out with one another with a result hanging in the balance.
When God brings sin and evil to an end, it’s simply done. If this is the God, friends, that we serve, the God who secures and preserves his people in Christ, then this is the confidence we have to stand in. Whatever we face in life, we need not be paralyzed by fear of the exploits of rulers and institutions whose existence and purposes are defined by futility. The God we serve is more than up to the task of keeping, guarding, preserving, and defending us, his church, and fulfilling his purposes for his church and the world. Because he will one day act with decisive power, we learn, to bring evil to a close for good for his glory and for our good.
So with these things in mind, what are some ways that we should apply this passage? What are some things that we should take away from it? Well very briefly two things.
1. Don’t fear the things of this world. You see in every culture and in every generation the church will face threats, and in those threats, we may wonder whether the church will endure. Now the obvious threats that are out there and that maybe some of us think about are our governments and nations who have systematically persecuted the church throughout our history. Those are the threats to the global church, but in our own day and setting persecution might not be number one on the radar.
Maybe it’s the fear that persuasions from incompatible philosophies or the ever-changing tides of social consensus will slowly eat away at the church from both inside and outside. Yet for all of the fear that every generation of Christians confronts, the great comfort to cling to is that there’s nothing new under the sun. In our passage Antiochus’ exploits, which we already mentioned are a type, a shadow of the final Antichrist figure, are themselves actually cast specifically in verse 22 in imagery from earlier Old Testament revelation that was used to describe the nation of Assyria.
Now this observation led one commentator I read to label Antiochus the new Assyria. You see the point is that every generation of believers will encounter threats and fears that might look different on the surface of things but are really just representations of what has come before and what will come again in the future. Moreover, just as every generation of Christian encounters agents of fear, we’re also always secured by the God who appoints the times and seasons for all that comes to pass.
There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to these forces of evil that we face in the world, but there’s also nothing new under the sun in the security the church of Jesus Christ has in every time and in every place. So don’t be incapacitated by fear that we face in the things of this world.
2. Don’t be enamored by the things of this world. By the same token that fear of missing out is it’s a powerful anxiety in our lives. We don’t like to be the odd ones out and we don’t want to miss out on some of what the world has to offer. Maybe you’re finding right now in your own life, or maybe you have in the past, that you have been immunized to the promises of this world such that you’re less and less satisfied with the things of God. Have you found your eyes and your ears giving more attention and more of a hearing to the promises of the world?
Well if that’s you let me encourage you to guard your eyes and your ears. A recent author I read mentioned how many times the Bible refers to the eyes as the gatekeepers of our hearts, and I think he’s right. What we look to with our eyes will eventually captivate our hearts. So rather than allowing yourself to be flattered by the things of this world, very simply friends, look to Jesus Christ. Look to Christ and his word over and over again. Look to Jesus, be captivated and enamored with him and his purposes. Know that while there is great fear in this world, and there are many things that would seek to draw us away from our confession in Jesus Christ, we have been secured to the God who has gained and will gain victory over all of the forces of evil in this world for his glory and for our good.
Let me pray,
Father, may we never forget that you are the God who controls times and seasons and sanctifies your church. Whatever it is you call us to walk through, may we remember what Nebuchadnezzar confessed, namely that your dominion is an everlasting dominion, your kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and you do according to all your will among all the hosts of heaven and among all the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay your hand or say to you what have you done? Lord we pray that we would be anchored in the realities that we see weaved throughout this passage, even despite some of the perplexing details in it. We pray that we would remember and be reminded that you are the God who appoints times, who appoint seasons, who was sovereign over all, and who loves us in Jesus Christ. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.