The Great Conflict | Daniel 10:1-11:1

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision.

In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris) I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength. Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground.

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and was mute. And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.”

Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.

“And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him.

Daniel 10:1-11:1 ESV

As we noted at the beginning of chapter 7, although apocalyptic literature is often associated with end times, it is not exclusively so. Rather, the word apocalypse means an uncovering, an unveiling, or a revealing. Given its large amount of apocalyptic imagery, Revelation is, thus, a very fitting title for that the final book of the Bible. These final six chapters of Daniel have been accomplishing the same goal: they are revelations to the people of God. Although many of the visions that Daniel beheld refer specifically to events that transpired between his own day and the birth of Christ, they still have much to reveal to us today, particularly about the God’s sovereignty, the fleeting existence of earthly kingdoms, and the faithful endurance of the saints. This chapter, however, peals back the curtain in a unique way by giving us a glimpse at the cosmic battle raging in the spiritual realm as the earthly kingdoms rise and fall. In fact, Daniel’s vision here will take us back to the reality of Paul’s teaching from Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

THE CONFLICT OF TRUTH // VERSES 1-3

We have come now to the end of the book of Daniel… sort of. The final three chapters together make up the final vision of that the prophet received, so technically we have reached the final section of the book. We will, however, break it down into three parts as we study it.

As with the previous visions, this one is both difficult and perplexing. Daniel tells us from the beginning that it is, nevertheless, true. This is a point that we should take to heart: the difficult passages of the Bible are no less true than the more accessible ones. “All Scripture,” after all, “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This is no less true of last week’s Seventy Weeks or of 1 Chronicles’ extended list of names than it is of the Ten Commandments or of Ephesians’ most explicit commands.

Indeed, while it is natural to read the great conflict as referring to the heavenly war that Daniel is soon to hear referenced, I believe that it can also refer to the Word itself, the revelation of God. After all, is not the principle conflict for all of God’s people throughout all time the struggle to hold onto the truthfulness of God’s Word? Did not the little horn in Daniel 8:12 “throw truth to the ground”?

The battle of Eden revolved around this subtle question: “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1)? Cain’s battle was to believe God’s Word that his murderous anger needed to be mastered. The Israelite’s battled in the wilderness to believe that God brought them out of Egypt for their own good. Daniel and his friends battled to hold onto the goodness and sovereignty of God after being driven into the land of their conquerors. Jesus’ disciples battled their own fearful and unbelieving hearts as they sat in the boat upon the supernaturally calmed sea, asking themselves, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him” (Mark 4:41)? The early church battled to believe in both the full humanity and full divinity of Christ. The medieval church battled against the seemingly unstoppable armies and teachings of Islam. The Reformers battled to believe in justification by faith alone.

Today, as I have argued elsewhere, our battle is predominately fixed upon the family. Our society’s sway into cultural Marxism (which takes the economic principles of Marxism and applies them to all of society) aims to erase all hierarchical structures of life. They understand, however, that the most basic structure of the patriarchal family continuously testifies against them. Their sights, therefore, are set upon the biblical organization of the family, hoping to erase all distinctions between the husband, wife, and children.[1] I stand by the declaration that most potent Christian witness to the non-believing world both now and in the years to come is a steadfast determination to live out the household commands of Ephesians. Husbands, sacrificially love your wives. Wives, submit to your own husbands. Children, obey your parents. Parents, nurture your children in the discipline and truth of God’s Word. Employees and employers, work and lead like Jesus is your boss. Who in the world lives like that?

All of this is to say, however, that while the battles look different in each passing generation, the conflict remains fundamentally the same: is God’s Word true? Will we be captivated by the revelation of Scripture, or will we be taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8)?

I have spent the last two-ish months staring at our society’s appearance of godliness yet denial of God, and I am more convinced that I have ever been that the world’s pursuit of progress is nothing more than an empty deceit. Indeed, Paul calls it philosophy, which ironically means the love of wisdom; true wisdom, however, begins by tuning our ears to God’s Word (as Solomon repeatedly shows in Proverbs 1-9). All other authorities are nothing more than “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Thus, before we ever arrive to the conflict between angels and demons in the heavenly places, understand that the great conflict is fundamentally this: will you believe and submit yourself to Scripture as authoritative and true? As Joshua told the Israelites, “choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

One last important note to make from the first verse. It gives us the time of the vision: in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia. Since chapter 9 likely took place a short time before the events of chapter 6, this vision is firmly established as the final chronological portion of the book. Furthermore, this time period also likely explains why Daniel was mourning and fasting in verses 2-3. You see, in Cyrus’ first year of conquering the Babylonians, he issued an edict for the Jewish captives to allowed to return to Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1). Ezra records the great joy with which 42,000 exiles established an altar for sacrifices and began to rebuild the temple. However, after they laid the foundation during the second year, the people from the surrounding lands “discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5). So they ceased working on the temple for fifteen years until God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir them up again.

Daniel, however, who was likely in his eighties and still in Babylon, very well may have been mourning and fasting after hearing this news. Imagine being in the prophet’s shoes. Although his place was now in Babylon, he never ceased praying for God to restore His people back to Jerusalem, and the first wave of 42,000 persons had done just that! Yet restoration would not go as smoothly as one might have hoped, and when the people around Jerusalem pushed back on their rebuilding of the temple, they fell away in fear. The lesson of their exile was evidently not yet complete. Even after spending nearly seventy years in exile, they still feared men more than God.

And Daniel rightfully mourned.

THE FEARFUL VISION // VERSES 4-12; 15-19

Yet as he stood beside the Tigris River, he saw a majestic figure:

a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.

vv. 5-6

The question over whether this angelic figure is an appearance of Christ before His incarnation or an angel from the very presence of God is a fascinating one. Those who believe this to be Christ appeal to the John’s description of Christ in Revelation 1, which certainly is quite similar. Those who believe this to be a mighty angel appeal to the figure’s delay until the coming of Michael in verse 13 as evidence that this was not Christ. Ultimately, we simply do not know which is correct; we do, however, know that this angelic messenger radiated out the glory of God.

Daniel was overcome by the sight, losing his strength and collapsing into sleep on the ground. Although John was one of Jesus’ closest friends on the earth, his sight of Christ glorified has a similar effect upon him: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). Likewise, when Isaiah was taken into the heavenly throne room, he cried out: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! Encounters with God’s holiness always expose the weakness and sin within us, and apostles and prophets were no exception. As Psalm 11:4 states, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” Although “the upright shall behold his face” (Psalm 11:7), no one is truly upright. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Against the spotless canvas of God’s holiness, even our smallest of stains are seen as the impurities that they truly are.

Although only Daniel saw this heavenly being, the men with him felt its holy presence and fled to hide themselves. In Revelation 6:12-17, John sees a vision of the great appearing of God’s glory as Christ returns and notice that the people respond in the same way:

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

If the wicked flee from His presence and God’s own people fall like dead before Him, the question is indeed an important one to answer: who can stand before the holy God?

Notice what happens next to Daniel:

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,

vv. 10-13

Although Daniel’s own strength had left him, the heavenly man brought him first to his hands and knees and then to his feet, encouraging him as a man greatly loved and to fear not. Yet even as he rose to his feet he still trembled before the glory in front of him. In verse 15, we find that Daniel was still unable to speak, but in verse 16, Daniel’s lips were touched and strengthened to speak. The prophet then noted his lack of strength to speak with such a mighty one. Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me (v. 18). And Daniel was indeed strengthened, saying, Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me (v. 19).

Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne played out quite similarly:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6:6–7

As was John’s:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Revelation 1:17–18

These three scenes all show that none can stand before the holy God, except those whom He has strengthened. The only ones righteous enough to enter God’s presence are those who come to Him covered in the righteousness of Another and are, like Daniel, greatly loved of God. The gloriously good news is that we can know that this is true of us in Christ. With His righteousness imputed onto us, God’s holy throne is also for us the throne of grace, and by the Spirit, through Christ as our Mediator, we are able to come in prayer at all times to the Holy One as our Father.

As Charles Spurgeon said of this passage:

Has your unbelief made you forget that you, too, are greatly loved? Wouldn’t you have to be loved a great deal to have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot? When God punished His only begotten Son for you, how could you be anything less than greatly loved?… Let’s not approach our Lord as though we were strangers, or as though He were unwilling to hear us—for we are greatly loved by our loving Father.[2]

THE COSMIC POWERS OVER THIS PRESENT DARKNESS // VERSES 12-14, 20-11:1

Within the remaining verses of this chapter (including the first verse of chapter 11), we are given glimpses at the spiritual warfare that was being waged during Daniel’s time. Let us quickly survey what Daniel is told here before commenting upon them and then making application for us today.

In verses 12-13, the angelic figure notes he came to Daniel at the very beginning of his three-week fast; however, he was delayed by the prince of Persia for twenty-one days, until Michael, a chief prince, came to his aid. Then in verses 20 through verse 1 of chapter 11, the messenger indicates that after delivering his message he must return to the fight against the Persia’s prince and that afterward the prince of Greece will arise. He then notes that only Michael wrestles alongside him and ends our present passage by noting that he stood up to confirm and strengthen Michael during the first year of Darius the Mede (that is, two years prior).

A few notable points should stand out to us. First, although we call the founder of the Persian Empire Cyrus the Great, we learn here that he was not the ultimate ruler of Persia. Instead, a demonic authority held the reins of the earthly kingdom. The same was true of Alexander as well. While he believed that he conquered the world by his own might and glory, the real prince of Greece loomed overhead.

Yet we should also note that God’s people were being defended from these by their own angelic prince, Michael. Here and in chapter 12 are Michael’s only mentions in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jude notes that he was the archangel (which means first or chief angel, as perhaps reference in verse 13) who wrestled with Satan over the body of Moses. John then saw a vision of Michael and his angels battling against and casting down from heaven Satan and his angels in Revelation 12. Here is called the prince of Daniel’s people. Calvin comments, “From this passage we may deduce the following conclusion,– angels contend for the Church of God both generally and for single members, just as their help may be needed.”[3]

This very rare glimpse into the spiritual realm is likely to leave us with more questions than answers. And I think that is rather the point. Considering these things is a bit like viewing the tip of an iceberg and realizing that almost all of it lies unseen below the water. Rather than speculating on what war between angels and demons might look like, we should focus upon the point: cosmic battles are being fought behind the scenes of seemingly ordinary events in the world. And our greatest foes are not earthly rulers who may even persecute God’s people but rather the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil that are manipulating the hearts of wicked men toward further rebellion against God. If we fail to grasp how frightening this is, then perhaps we fail to grasp the reality of the spiritual realm altogether. As Ephesians 6:13 notes, today is no less evil than Daniel’s time was. These cosmic powers still rally themselves against God’s people, hungering to pull as much of humanity as they can with them into the second death, the lake of fire.

Yet in the midst of these frightening realities, the angelic figure exhorted Daniel, saying, O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage (v. 19). Even if the hordes of hell surrounded the prophet, he could still be strong, of good courage, peaceful, and without fear because he could rest in the knowledge that he was greatly loved of God. As Romans 8:31 asks rhetorically, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Just as the prince and kings of Persia could not halt God’s Word from reaching Daniel, neither can the forces of evil cease the spread of God’s Word and the growth of Christ’s kingdom. When tempted into sin or accused of past sin, we hold fast to the sword of the Spirit’s promise that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). If he should strike down our bodies, our enemy will be conquered by our death just as He was ultimately conquered by Christ’s death. Indeed, Revelation 12:11 speaks of the Church’s war against the devil, saying, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” By the Spirit’s testimony “with our spirit” we know that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we might also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).

Thus, nothing, not even death or the guilt and shame of our sin, can separate us from the love of God, poured upon us without measure in Christ. We need not fear the cosmic war that wages around us, for we are greatly loved by our Father. We can be at peace and secure, armed with God’s own armor, for we are greatly loved by Jesus our Lord. We can be strong in the strength that our Lord Himself provides us, for we are greatly loved by the Holy Spirit. We can be of good courage, standing against the tides of evil in our own day, for we are greatly loved by the triune Holy One. In whatever may pass, “we are more than conquers through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Of course, as we said at the beginning, perhaps the even greater conflict is believing all of this, especially that we are greatly loved by God. Do you believe?


[1] Remember also from Ephesians that the erasing of distinctions is fundamental mark of paganism. The triune God alone is able to demand equality of worth and dignity while maintaining a distinction of role and function, for we find this fully embodied in the Trinity.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Mornings and Evenings, 553.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries Vol XIII, 253.

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