Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sermon: Daniel 11: 1-45 The Shape of Things to Come

We’re less than two weeks away from the General Election, and you just can’t escape it - TV, newspapers, radio, internet - everyone is talking about the general election, and especially the opinion polls. People are trying to predict what will happen in the future - which party will win enough seats to form the government, how the country will be changed. Yet even the ‘experts’ are divided as they think different things will happen.

Imagine, then, if someone were to say that they could tell you, not only who would win this election, but every election for the next two hundred years! You might think that impossible - yet it’s what God is revealing here to Daniel. Daniel 11 may well be the most difficult chapter in the whole book, with the detailed description of the movements and battles of the kings of the north and south. We won’t be able to look at every detail, but the important thing to remember here is that God reveals the future before it happens.

Some people think that the history is so detailed and accurate that it must have been written afterwards, but that is simply not the case. It is an integral part of the book of Daniel, and demonstrates again how God knows the future and can reveal it. The pattern of kings rising and attacking one another, the intrigues and plots, were all spoken to Daniel years (even centuries) before they happened. God reveals it, to encourage and strengthen and warn his people. Can you imagine those returning to Jerusalem from exile, receiving this word from the Lord through Daniel, and then watching as the politics perfectly fulfilled what was said?

For the first 28 verses, Israel isn’t really mentioned or threatened. The Persians kings give way to the kings of Greece (Alexander the Great etc), but his kingdom is divided, and two main branches, north and south, keep fighting with each other - the Seleucid dynasty (the kings of the north, based in Syria), and the Ptolemic dynasty (the kings of the south, based in Egypt). These great kingdoms are at war, and Israel is sitting in between them, watching the movements back and forth.

However it all changes in verse 29, where our reading started this morning. The glorious land (Israel) is under threat, as the king of the north - by this time Antiochus Epiphanes IV - turns his attentions to Jerusalem. As we look at these verses, though, we’re not just reading about ancient history. Rather, Antiochus stands as the great enemy of God’s people, and as such, (as we’ll see later) represents the enemy of Christians today and into the future. We’ll look at these verses under two headings - first, Attack on the holy covenant, and second, the response of God’s people.

Firstly, then, Attack on the holy covenant. Antiochus Epiphanes has been on the warpath, conquering all round him, fighting against the kings of the south, but in verse 30 he is frustrated by the ships of Kittim - the Mediterranean Sea. In frustration and rage, he instead attacks Jerusalem - the place of God’s covenant, the temple. Look at verse 31 with me: ‘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.’

For Daniel and the first readers, this was unthinkable. The temple is the place where God dwells among his people. It is only just being rebuilt after the exile, as the first exiles return with Ezra. Yet the temple will be profaned - made unclean, desolated through the actions of this great enemy. As we look back, it’s clear that Antiochus removed the altar for burnt offerings, and instead installed a pagan altar in the temple. Offering sacrifices to a false god in the place of the worship of the true and living God.

But it wasn’t enough for him to disrupt the worship of God, he also attacked the people of God, seeking to lead them astray. For some, this meant flattery - look at verse 32: ‘He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant.’ These Jews have given up on God, and instead welcome this inter-faith worship - they are led astray by flattery - smooth words, designed to tickle them.

Others, though, resist, so he is on the attack - verse 33 speaks of some stumbling by sword and flame, captivity and plunder. This is an all-out attack on the Old Testament church, motivated by anger and rage against the people of God.

Now, you might be wondering - why are we reading this passage? After all, this is ancient history. Yet as we read on, the figure of Antiochus Epiphanes also represents the enemy of God’s people right throughout the rest of history. By the New Testament, this language is picked up and used to describe the man of lawlessness, the man of sin, the antichrist. Let’s read verse 36, then flick over to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. Do you see the similarity? This man of lawlessness exalts himself against every so-called god... so that he... proclaims himself to be God. So, do you remember in Mark 13 when Jesus is asked by his disciples about the destruction of the temple - and in Jesus’ reply he speaks both of the end of the temple and the end of time? In speaking of one, he speaks of the pattern of the future as well. It’s the same here - Antiochus is such that he is the pattern for antichrists and the antichrist.

All through Daniel we have seen that God is in charge, God is on the throne. In chapter 7 we were introduced to the Son of Man, given all authority. Yet here in Daniel 11, this enemy of God’s people arises - Antiochus; through him we see the continuing enemies of God’s church - many antichrists, leading up to this final great antichrist, the man of sin. He exalts himself to the place of God, and attacks the church.

Daniel 11 is therefore still a warning to us - to watch out for the enemies of the people of God - who seek to destroy us through flattery or attack. These antichrists are the human agents of our great enemy, the devil, who constantly seeks to attack us, attacking the covenant, questioning if we’re really saved (when really we’re so terribly sinful).

So if Daniel 11 is a warning to us, what should our response be? How did Daniel 11 help the people of God in Jerusalem resist this attack, and how will it encourage us to resist as well?

Let’s go back to verse 32: ‘He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.’ Some were seduced, led away by flattery, as they violated the covenant - we’ve already thought about them briefly. Yet it doesn’t happen to all. Some resist - what is it about them? ‘but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.’ It’s clear that standing firm and taking action will lead to opposition, persecution, even death - it appears that the stumbling mentioned in verse 33 to 35 refers to falling in death.

This is a wake-up call - to be part of the people of God means opposition and even death (as Paul writes to Timothy, ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3:12), and as Jesus says. ‘if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you’ (John 15:20)). As we gather today, it appears that we’re more in danger of being flattered away than of standing firm, because we have it so comfortable here.

But why is it that the Jews in that day would stand firm, and why we’re also called to stand firm in our day? What is it drives people to be committed, to stand firm and take action for the cause of truth? ‘the people who know their God shall stand firm.’

It is the people who know their God - who are confident that God is in control, that God is reigning, sovereign over all, that God is judge, and will vindicate and protect his people - not from suffering, but through suffering. (That image in 35 of the wise who stumble are refined, purified and made white is of the slain saints under the altar of God in Revelation 7:14). For us, as the covenant is attacked, as the ground and means of our faith is called into question, how much more do we still need to know our God as the grounds of our confidence and firm standing?

We know our God even clearer than Daniel could have as we look at the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The new covenant he has instituted in his blood, dying our death, giving us new life. Our salvation is secure - based on the finished work of Christ. And our enemy doesn’t like it, not one bit. You remember in Revelation 12, the dragon, the devil seeks to devour the male child, the Messiah. He is foiled, so instead goes off to make war with those who ‘keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.’

It has been said before that the church is not a cruise ship, but a warship - under attack from the world, the flesh and the devil. As we know our God better through our Bible reading, we have the confidence to stand firm in his covenant, no matter what the enemy throws at us. So what’s your response this morning? Are you in danger of being flattered away from what is yours in Christ? War all round, but you are lying on a sunlounger?

Or will you stand firm because you know your God? Getting to know him better as you daily read Scripture, pray, and watching out for the dangers.

When Antiochus attacked Jerusalem, the Maccabees revolted - and defeated him after a terrible struggle. They had a concern for God’s holiness, and for the city of God. The very last words of Daniel 11 gave them confidence that the attack would not last forever - ‘Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him.’ Enemies will arise, but they will not succeed forever.

Revelation and 2 Thessalonians (among others) look forward confidently to the end of the man of lawlessness, the antichrist. God is in control, and Jesus will be glorified by all. Armed with this confidence through the knowledge of our God, will we too stand firm and take action?

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 25th April 2010.


  1. Great sermon, Gary. The accuracy of Daniel at seeing Antiochus and the Maccabees' eventual victory is undeniable. Daniel also sees a similar situation during the time of the end, when the Antichrist moves to take over the world, leading to reams of speculation about what he meant. I recently finished a fiction book that has Antiochus Epiphanes himself come again[ ]as a sort of reborn spirit in his cloned body, both an Antichrist and a second coming. It's trippy fiction, but if you think about what the angel told Daniel referring to the time of the end, you can see how Antiochus fits that prediction and others too from Revelation and 2 Thess. Jesus says to watch for the abomination that desolates in the Temple. I'd have to spoil the story if I told you how that works out, but it's part of Something Coming (J.M. Debord is the author). The story seems unkind to evangelical Christians at first, but I'll just say that they are shown to be right about Antiochus being secretly behind a world peace movement. And that no hand could stop him but his own. Take care.

  2. How many people believe they are saved, but are religious? I was religious and Jesus took me home, I met my Lord and was judged fairly. He saved and healed me of Parkinsons. Now, I am teaching and preaching, seeing visions and having dreams. Awesome miracles are happening! Yet, God does not want religion, He wants relationship! Thank you, Juanita Baumann