We’ve seen that Daniel received various dreams and visions from the Lord. There was his dream in chapter 7 about the four great beasts and the little horn which grew out of the fourth beast. And then there was the vision in chapter 8 about the ram and the goat and another little horn. And then in chapter 9 there was his encounter with Gabriel who spoke to him about the seventy sevens. And then there’s the final vision which began in chapter 10 and which continues through chapter 11 and into chapter 12.
In chapter 10 the Lord revealed to Daniel that there was a great spiritual battle taking place in the unseen, heavenly realm. In other words, the focus of chapter 10 was in the heavenly realm which we cannot see. However, the focus of chapter 11 is on the earthly realm, the world around us which we can see. By means of this vision, the Lord was able to show Daniel and us what will happen here on earth throughout the course of human history from the time of the Persian Empire right up until the day when Christ comes again to raise the dead. And just as it is in the heavenly realm, so it will be in the earthly realm: just as there is a great spiritual battle in the heavenly realm, so there will be many wars and battles and struggles for power in the earthly realm until the Lord comes again.
And so, that’s what Daniel 11 and 12 are about: what will happen in the world between the time of the Persian Empire and the return of Christ. What the Lord reveals to Daniel will obviously be very selective, because how could the Lord possibly show Daniel everything that will happen in the course of human history? Nevertheless, what the Lord reveals to Daniel is wonderfully accurate; and what he said would happen in the generations after the Persian Empire did in fact happen just as he foretold. In fact, those unbelieving scholars who do not believe the Bible was inspired by God argue that these predictions are so accurate they cannot possibly have been written by Daniel; they must have been written by someone else after these events occurred in history. But we believe that the Bible is God’s word and that those who wrote it wrote under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit; and God is able to foretell the future because he’s the one who rules over all and who has planned all things and who has determined what will be. And since he has planned the future, he was able to reveal to Daniel what the future holds.
And so, let’s turn to this chapter now. And we can divide the chapter into four main parts. Firstly, verses 2 to 4 are about the last of the Persian kings and the reign of Alexander the Great. Secondly, verses 5 to 20 are about the struggle between the king of the north and the king of the south. Thirdly, verses 21 to 35 are about Antiochus IV. He featured in chapter 8, where he was depicted as a little horn who set himself up in the place of God and who persecuted the Jews. And then fourthly, in verses 36 to 45 the Lord went on to speak to Daniel about another king who is similar to Antiochus. but who is also so much greater and wicked than Antiochus. And this king will appear ‘at the time of the end’. And then, at the beginning of chapter 12 — and we won’t get to it today — the Lord spoke about the resurrection of the dead: some to everlasting life and others to shame and everlasting contempt. And so, this vision spans the whole of human history from the time of the Persian Empire to the day when Christ comes again to raise the dead.
Verses 2 to 4
So, verses 2 to 4 are about the last of the Persian kings and the reign of Alexander the Great, who was king of the Greek Empire.
In verse 2 the Lord tells Daniel that three more kings will appear in Persia; and then there will be a fourth who will be far richer than the others. The historians tell us that the three kings who followed Cyrus were Cambyses, Gaumata and Darius I. The fourth king was Xerxes; he’s the king who features in the book of Esther. There were other Persian kings after Xerxes, but they weren’t very important and are not mentioned here.
Daniel was told that Xerxes — the fourth king — will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece. The historians tells us that, sure enough, Xerxes enlisted people from all parts of his empire to join his army and invade Greece. However, he didn’t succeed, because the Greek city-states united together to oppose him. All these city-states in Greece eventually came together under Philip of Macedon, whose son was Alexander the Great. Alexander is the might king we read about in verse 3, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. Alexander was remarkably successful and he conquered the whole of the known world before he reached the age of 33. He and his armies were able to sweep quickly across the world; and no one could stop him. In other words, he was able to do as he pleased. However, very suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances, he died and he kingdom was divided into four separate parts: Greece and Macedon; Thrace and Asia Minor; Syria and Mesopotamia; and Egypt. And so, in verse 4 of Daniel’s vision, the Lord foretold how Alexander’s empire was broken up and parcelled out towards the four winds of heaven. ‘It will not go to his descendants’, Daniel is told. And that’s true: his descendants were murdered and his generals ruled in his place over the four parts of his kingdom. And the kingdoms that succeeded Alexander’s kingdom were not as great or as powerful as his.
Verses 5 to 20
So, that’s verses 2 to 4. Verses 5 to 20 are about the struggle between the king of the north and the king of the south. Although the text refers to the king of the north and the king of the south, it’s widely agreed that the Lord is referring to many kings. The king of the north refers to the Seleucid kings who ruled the kingdom of Syria and Mesopotamia; the king of the south refers to the Ptolemy kings who ruled the kingdom of Egypt.
Well, in the verses which follow, the Lord foretold many things about these kingdoms. We won’t go through this in any detail, because it is — as they say — ancient history. However, it’s remarkably accurate. For instance, in verse 6 we read how they became allies and the daughter of the king of the south will make an alliance with the king of the north. Well, in 250 BC, the king of the northern kingdom agreed to a peace treaty with the king in the south. Part of the treaty involved a marriage alliance between the southern kingdom’s daughter, Berenice, and the northern king. However, the northern king soon died and Berenice’s attendants and her father also died. It’s believed they were killed by the king’s first wife who wanted to ensure that her child succeeded as king. This was all predicted in verse 6 where it says:
In those days she [that is, Berenice] will be handed over [to death], together with her royal escort, and her father, and the one who supported her.
Most of the commentaries on Daniel go through these verses and explain how these things were fulfilled in history. But to summarise it: it was a period of conflict and wars and the struggle for power. As one writer puts it, the balance of power ebbs back and forth between these two superpowers. However, despite their great efforts, neither one is able to conquer the other, so it’s just one battle after another. And so, we read in verse 7 that a king from the south will attack the forces of the king of the north. Verse 9: the king of the north will invade the realm of the king of the south. Verse 11: then the king of the south will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the north. Verse 13: the king of the north will muster another army. Verse 14: in those times many will rise against the king of the south. Verse 15: then the king of the north will come and build up siege ramps. Back and forth, back and forth it goes. Neither was able able to conquer the other.
And that, of course, is a picture of all of human history, isn’t it? It’s a continual struggle for power, with one nation rising up against the others, only to be overthrown eventually by another. One person rises to a position of authority and reigns for a time, but is then replaced by someone else. One empire rises and takes over the world; but then its power declines and another empire takes its place.
Verses 21 to 35
However, then we read in verse 21 that the king of the north will be succeeded by a contemptible person. This is Antiochus IV who managed to acquire an army and who seized the throne from his nephew who was the rightful heir to the throne. That’s why we read in verse 21 that this contemptible person had not been given the honour of royalty. He was not the rightful heir, but he took it by force and through intrigue. In verse 24 the Lord foretold how he will invade the richest of provinces and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. So, he will be remarkably successful. But only for a time, we’re told at the end of verse 24.
Verses 25 to 28 predict a campaign against Egypt. Though the king of the south was able to raise an army to defend themselves, they were not able to withstand Antiochus’s northern army. According to verse 27, the two kings will sit down together to work out an agreement. However, they will only deceive one another. Then we’re told that on his way back home from plundering Egypt, Antiochus will set his heart against the holy covenant. Do you see that in verse 28? We’re told he will take action against the holy covenant and then return to his own country. Well, the Lord was foretelling how Antiochus would persecute the Jews, God’s holy covenant people. It seems that a Jew named Jason had heard a report that Antiochus had died and had led a revolt in Israel. However, Antiochus was not dead and he came to quash the revolt. He entered Jerusalem and killed thousands of its inhabitants and profaned the temple. One ancient account describes how he took away all the gold objects in the temple including the altar and lamp stand and the table for the bread of the Presence and all the gold utensils. And as well as doing that, he shed much blood and spoke with great arrogance.
In verse 29 the Lord foretold how Antiochus would attempt to invade Egypt again. However, this time he would not succeed, because ships of the western coastland, or ships of Kittim, will oppose him. This was a fleet of ships from Rome which was now rising to power. According to verse 30, he will lose heart and turn his fury against the holy covenant. Again, this is a reference to the Jews in Israel, God’s holy covenant people. The Lord foretold how Antiochus would vent his fury against those who remain faithful to the Lord, but he will show favour to those who forsake God’s holy covenant. So, he’ll persecute faithful Jews and reward those who turn away from the Lord. And we read in verse 31 that his armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. They will also set up what was known as the abomination that causes desolation, which may have been a statue of Zeus. Again, an ancient account describes it like this:
And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”
And we know that many Jews did resist him and were killed as a result. And the Lord foretold this as well, because we read in verse 33 that those who are wise — wise like Daniel who stood firm and remained faithful in Babylon — will instruct many. In other words, they will teach the people about the importance of standing firm and remaining faithful despite the persecution. However — whereas Daniel and his three friends were rescued — the Jews in Jerusalem will fall by the sword or they will be burned or captured or plundered so that they will lose all that they own. They will receive a little help, we’re told in verse 34. But some of them will stumble however. Nevertheless even though they will face persecution and even martyrdom, the Lord is able to use what happened to them for good, because by means of this persecution, he will refine and purify his faithful people and make them spotless until the time of the end. The time of the end is the time when Christ will return and raise his faithful people from the dead. And so, even though many of them were killed by Antiochus, those who were faithful, even to the point of death, will be raised at the resurrection and made spotless and glorious and they will live with the Lord forever in glory. And so, Antiochus’s persecution served the purposes of God, because it refined those who clung to God and his promises and who possessed the hope of everlasting life in God’s presence.
Verses 36 to 45
Well, in the final section of this chapter — verses 36 to 45 — the Lord went on to speak to Daniel about another king who is similar to Antiochus. In fact, some commentators say that these verses are still about Antiochus. However, other commentators say that the description of the king in these verses does not match what we know about Antiochus. Furthermore, since the Lord refers in verse 35 to ‘the time of the end’, that tells us that the Lord has jumped forward in time from the days of Antiochus to the end of human history. The same phrase is used in verse 40 and it’s used twice in chapter 12 as well. And so, he’s telling Daniel and us that at the time of the end, near the end of human history, another king will come. And according to verse 36, he will do as he pleases. And he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and he will say unheard-of things against the Lord, who is described here as ‘the God of gods’. So, he will set himself up against the Lord and put his word in place of God’s word. And he will succeed, at least for a time, because what has been determined must take place. And when it says ‘what has been determined’, it means what has been determined by the Lord God who rules over all things and in whom even this wicked king lives and moves and has his being.
And so, this wicked king will succeed until the time of God’s wrath has been completed, for the Lord God will use this wicked king to execute his wrath. Of course, this wicked king is thoroughly wicked and he will have no regard for the Lord, but will instead be devoted to what is called ‘a god of fortresses’, which conveys the idea that all he’s interested in is power. And he will honour those who acknowledge him and give their allegiance to him.
Well, who is this wicked king who will arise at the time of the end? Well, the description we have of this king in Daniel 11 match the description the Apostle Paul gives us in 2 Thessalonians 2 of ‘the man of lawlessness’ who will appear before the coming of the Lord. The Apostle John also refers to him as the Antichrist. But listen to what Paul says:
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.
Paul explained to the believers in Thessalonica that before the Lord Jesus comes again, this man of lawlessness will appear. He is associated with Satan; and therefore he will oppose God and will set himself up in the place of God and will use all kinds of displays of power to deceive people. And so, it seems that the wicked king in Daniel 11 is the man of lawlessness which Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2. Right now, says Paul, he is being held back. But the day is coming, when he will no longer be held back, but will be revealed. But, when he’s revealed, the Lord’s people need not be afraid, for the Lord Jesus will overthrow him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him with the splendour of his coming. Many will be deceived by him; but those who know the Lord and trust in him will be saved.
That’s how Paul describes this wicked king who will come at the time of the end. What we read about him in verses 40 to 45 of Daniel 11 is difficult, because it uses Old Testament imagery to describe what will happen before the coming of Christ. For instance, it refers again to the struggle between the kings of the north and south. Those empires no longer exist; so the Lord is using that image to reveal that there will be a great military conflict at the time of the end; and this wicked king will defeat many. The Lord also refers to the lands of Edom and Moab and Ammon. They too no longer exist, but they represent the enemies of God whom this wicked king will spare. He also refers to the Beautiful Land. In the days of the Old Testament, the Beautiful Land was the Promised Land, a land like the Garden of Eden, flowing with milk and honey. However, now it refers to the church of Jesus Christ. So, when this wicked king comes, he will invade or attack the church, persecuting God’s people just as Antiochus used to do. And, according to verse 44, he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many. But eventually, according to verse 45, he will come to an end. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, the Lord Jesus will come and will overthrow him with the breathe of his mouth. and will destroy him with the splendour of his coming.
And so, the Lord outlines for Daniel and for us the whole of human history from the time of the Persians until the time of the end, when the Lord Jesus comes in glory and with power to destroy this wicked king, this man of lawlessness, this agent of Satan. The Lord will destroy him and all who have stood against the Lord and who have sided with the Devil and with the man of lawlessness.
Now, the reason the Lord revealed this to Daniel was to prepare God’s people in every generation. He wants us to understand that the course of human history will be as we read in Daniel 11: there will be a continual struggle for power, with one nation rising up against the others, only to be overthrown eventually by another. But whatever happens is under the sovereign power and authority of the Lord God who rules over all and who knows what tomorrow will bring, because whatever happens is part of his plan for the world. And so, we mustn’t be frightened by what happens between the nations, but we must remember and believe that our God reigns.
And he wants us to know that before Christ comes again, this wicked king will come, this man of lawlessness. And his coming will be terrible and terrifying. But again, we must not be afraid, because just as the Lord knows the date of this wicked king’s appearing, he also knows the date of his destruction, because this too is under the sovereign power and authority of the Lord God who rules over all.
And he also wants us to know that there will be others like this wicked king who will come to persecute God’s people. The reign of Antiochus was, in a sense, a foretaste of what this wicked king will do at the time of the end. And before the time of the end, there will be others just like Antiochus who will set themselves up against the Lord and who will do what they can to destroy the church. The Apostle Paul warned his readers of the same thing, because after warning them about the man of lawlessness who will come at the end, he went on to speak about ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ which is already at work in the world. In other words, he’s already at work in the world to deceive and to persecute God’s people in every generation. And behind the work of this man of lawlessness, and behind all the false teaching and persecution which believers in every generation face, there’s the Devil, who hates the Lord and his people and who will do what he can to cause us to stumble and fall from the Saviour. And so, we must be prepared to stand firm whenever opposition and trouble come. Like the believers in the days of Antiochus, we must be wise. Do you see that in verse 33? Well, he’s not talking about the wisdom of the world. He’s talking about the wisdom of God, which we find in the Scriptures. And so, the secret to standing firm is to know the Scriptures, which are able to make us wise for salvation; and which are useful for teaching us, and for rebuking us, and for correcting us and for training us in righteousness. In order to stand firm, we must pay attention to the reading and preaching of God’s word, because the Lord has given us his word to enable us to be wise and to stand firm, just as Daniel’s three friends stood firm when the king threatened to throw them into the fiery furnace; or just as Daniel stood firm when the king threatened to throw him to the lions. They stood firm, because they understood that there’s no point saving your life in this world, if it means being unfaithful to the Saviour.
But finally, the Lord wants us to know and to be certain of this one fact: in the end, every enemy of Christ and his church will be destroyed when Jesus Christ comes again. During his life on earth, our Saviour was handed over to the Jews by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and he was crucified and was buried. And according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, he was raised on the third day and ascended to heaven. And according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, he will come again to judge the earth. When he comes, his enemies will be destroyed and his faithful people will be raised and we will reign with him for ever and for ever in glory.