War in Heavenly Places
March 5, 2000
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This is one of those times when the sermon title is important. The title “War in Heavenly Places” not only describes this sermon, it also tells us what Daniel 10 is all about. This chapter, which is often overlooked, reveals to us a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. It tells of angels and demons locked in a kind of mortal combat somewhere between heaven and earth. This is like Star Wars only this isn’t science fiction. It’s real.
In order to get the proper perspective, consider these words by Welsh pastor Geoff Thomas: “Wherever there is a flock of Christ’s sheep there are wolves that want to destroy them. Whenever the church advances dark principalities are at work.” Both sides of this quote are true. God’s church is advancing around the world, and dark principalities are indeed at work. Whenever the Lord makes an advance into the realm of darkness, the empire of Satan always strikes back.
Daniel 10 helps us understand why we encounter delays and difficulty in our service for Christ. It especially helps us understand why our prayers are sometimes hindered and delayed for long seasons, sometimes for many years.
I believe the best way to picture this chapter is to imagine yourself at a play in a majestic theater. As you wait for the program to begin, you can hear noise from behind the curtain and occasionally the curtain itself is jostled by something or someone hidden from your view. Suddenly the curtain parts for a moment, just for a second, and you can clearly see the action on the stage. Almost before you can focus your eyes, the curtain closes again. You know what you saw but you wish you had been able to get a better glimpse.
That’s Daniel 10. It’s a peek behind the curtain of history. Daniel is given a rare insight into things that are normally invisible. It is a view from the seen to the unseen, from the visible to the invisible, from the natural to the supernatural.
I. The Background of Daniel 10
The chapter begins with an important chronological note. Verse 1 tells us that Daniel received his revelation in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, that is, in 536 BC. That date is important because that’s the year the exile finally ended and the first group of Jews returned to Jerusalem. Although over 49,000 people went home that year, Daniel was not among them. Perhaps at his advanced age he could not make the arduous journey. More likely, God simply told him that he had more work in Babylon for him to do.
Daniel 10 introduces us to the final vision of the book. Chapter 10 is the prologue, Chapter 11 is the vision itself, and Chapter 12 gives us the aftermath and the close of the book. Basically Daniel receives a revelation of the future that 1) involves his people, the nation of Israel, 2) the last days, and 3) a great war. As we will see in a later sermon, Daniel 11 contains an amazing revelation of Israel’s history, culminating in the rise of Antichrist in the final days before the return of Christ.
This revelation of a great war that will engulf Israel evidently sent Daniel into mourning. For three weeks he fasted and prayed, eating no food, drinking no wine, and using no lotions (meaning he didn’t shower or use deodorant). At the end of the three weeks he was standing by the Tigris River when he saw a most amazing thing:
I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude (Daniel 10:5-6).
Although this man is not identified, the description sounds very much like the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation 1. And Daniel’s response is the same as the apostle John. He fell on his face before this amazing person. I believe that Daniel had encountered a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The experience was too much for him and he passes out on the ground.
Later a hand touches him and bids him to stand up. I believe the hand belonged not to Jesus but to an angel sent by him. The angel proceeds to tell Daniel that his prayer had been heard the moment he began praying at the start of his 21-day fast. Why, then, had the answer taken so long to arrive? The angel’s explanation is mind-blowing. He says that he had been hindered by demonic opposition between heaven and earth:
Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia (Daniel 10:12-13).
The “prince of the Persian kingdom” cannot be a man because no man can hinder an angel sent by God. This must be some kind of demonic force assigned by Satan to serve in the court of the Persian king. Evidently his job was to hinder God’s work and to discourage God’s people in Persia. He must have been a strong demon because all by himself he stopped an angel cold for 21 days. Then Michael (who is an archangel assigned to guard Israel, see Daniel 12:1) intervenes and the angel is able to complete his mission.
At the end of the chapter we get even more information about angelic comings and goings:
Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince. And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him.) (Daniel 10:20b-11:1).
This tells us that the angel has left his warfare to come to Daniel and will soon be resuming the heavenly battle. Soon he will fight the “prince of Persia” again and later will take on the “prince of Greece.” He also tells Daniel that two years earlier he had somehow interceded to help out Michael (perhaps also fighting against the “prince of Persia”).
This is all very mysterious to us. But if it is to be taken literally, as I think it must be, it tells us of unusual goings-on in the invisible realm where demons and angels duke it out to either promote or obstruct God’s work in the world.
If this sounds like a little too much to take, consider the familiar words of Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
This verse is helpful on several levels. First, it reminds us that our battle is not against other humans. Sometimes we focus on the abortionists, the pornographers, the godless politicians, the corrupt business leaders, the drug dealers, and the purveyors of filth, as if they were the source of our problems. Yet those people are unwitting dupes of powerful spiritual forces that they know nothing about. They are morally culpable for their choices, yet there are also in the service evil beings who influence them in ways they do not realize.
Second, this verse teaches us that there are various kinds of demonic powers. There are “rulers,” “authorities,” “powers of this dark world,” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It’s not clear how we should differentiate between them. Perhaps it is enough to know that just as there are various types of angels so the demons are organized and serve different purposes in Satan’s service.
Finally, this verse encourages us to “put on the whole armor of God.” Our godly character (or lack of it) actually does make a day-to-day difference. Not only for us but also in the great struggle between good and evil. We are all foot soldiers in a vast invisible war that stretches across the cosmos.
I conclude that while Daniel 10 may seem unusual it actually corresponds quite well with the bigger picture presented in the New Testament.
II. Things We Don’t Know for Certain
Because this chapter is a peek behind the curtain, it leaves us with many questions we can’t answer fully.
For instance, what happened during the 21 days the angel and the “prince of Persia” were contending together? The text tells us of a conflict but gives no hint as to how the conflict played itself out. We’d also like to know what exactly Michael the archangel did in the end that finally won the day. In my mind I picture some kind of WWF Intergalactic Super Slam where the angel and the demon are locked in a titanic struggle until Michael comes running in, accompanied by smoke and loud music, jumps on the top rope and does some fancy move that pins the demon and wins the match. I’m sure it wasn’t anything like that, but we can’t say with certainty exactly what happened. Perhaps it is simply that we can’t even conceive of how spirit beings can contend with each other. If we knew the answer, it would probably not make any sense to us.
Other questions arise. How are demons and angels organized? It’s clear that there are ranks of angels and a hierarchy of demon spirits. The four categories in Ephesians 6:12 are suggestive, but they don’t tell us everything we would like to know. And how do angels work together to defeat demons? Again, we don’t have enough information to answer that question.
On a more practical basis, we’d like to know how our prayers impact the heavenly warfare. In This Present Darkness author Frank Peretti implies that our prayers somehow give strength to weary angels to aid them in their combat. Perhaps that is true. All we can say for certain is that there is a connection between our prayers and the spirit realm. That’s what the “wrestling” of Ephesians 6:12 is all about. We wrestle through prayer and obedience to God and putting on the armor of God, and through these very human activities we enter the realm of invisible spiritual warfare.
Finally, we would like to know if demons and angels are assigned to every nation on earth. We know about Michael and Israel, and the demons assigned to Persia and Greece. Some writers carry this so far as to suggest there are angels and demons assigned to every city, town, street, home, school, office, and factory. They make much of “territorial spirits” and the importance of identifying those spirits and praying against them. Outside of Daniel 10, no other passage in the Bible tells us about spirit beings being assigned to specific nations. We simply don’t know how far to take this. It may well be true that there are demons assigned to every street and perhaps to every home, but there is no way to be sure. Evidently it’s not an important issue or else we would be told more about it.
Finally, what about guardian angels? Many people believe that an angel is assigned to each person on earth. Or at least to each believer on earth. I think there may in fact be some truth to that. Actually, I think we all may have many guardian angels. Some of us are such miscreants that we need an entire battalion of the heavenly host to keep us in line.
I have mentioned what we don’t know (that we wish we knew) in order to bring up an important point. Whenever we read a passage like Daniel 10, it’s easy to go off on a tangent. Either we dismiss it as superstition or we go off the deep end and obsess on the supernatural. Both extremes are wrong. The principle we should follow is this. The only things we can know for sure about the spiritual realm are those things clearly revealed in the Word of God. Everything else is speculation. It is important not to go beyond the scripture at any point with respect to the demonic. As evangelicals, we believe that the Bible tells us everything we need to know about the spirit world, and that everything the Bible says is actually true, and that there is no other authoritative source for information regarding demons and angels.
To say that is to say nothing more than that we take II Timothy 3:16 seriously when it says that the Bible is God-breathed and is given to make us thoroughly equipped for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. Through the written Word of God we have everything we need for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3-4). Our only authority in the spiritual realm is the Bible itself, not human experience. We should believe everything the Bible says. And we shouldn’t go beyond what the Bible says.
Along this line it’s important to remember that Daniel wouldn’t have known anything about the conflict with the “prince of Persia” if the angel had not told him. It’s not as if he was praying for the angels during his fast. “O Lord, help the good angel to fight hard. Lord, please help Michael to hurry up and get in the battle.” No! He didn’t know anything about it. He had no knowledge of the supernatural struggle (and had no way of knowing) until the angel revealed it to him.
III. Things We Can Be Sure About
As we wrap up this message it’s important for us to focus on what we can learn from Daniel 10. Five key statements summarize truth we can take home with us.
A. The prayers of believers are immediately heard by God.
The angel tells Daniel in verse 12 that his prayers were heard in heaven the moment he sought wisdom from God. This ought to encourage all of us who wonder if our prayers ever reach beyond the ceiling. The tiniest whisper from a believer on earth is shouted throughout the courts of heaven. God hears us when we pray and our petitions reach him the moment they are formed in our hearts. Since there is no time or distance with our Heavenly Father, we may pray with the assurance that he hears us as if we were the only ones speaking to him.
B. Unseen spiritual warfare may at times delay answers to our prayers.
What happened to Daniel may also happen to us. It may be that our deepest, most heartfelt prayers are sometimes delayed because of “static” coming from the other side of the curtain as angels and demons battle in the invisible realm. I believe this is most likely to happen when we pray about God’s cause on the earth. As we enter into serious intercession for unreached people groups, we are likely to encounter many difficulties. And when we pray for our loved ones to be saved and for wayward children to return to the Lord, we should not be surprised that those prayers are not immediately answered. Satan hates that kind of praying because it is a direct attack on his infernal kingdom. He will not give up his captives without a fight.
C. Wrestling in prayer is exhausting work.
Daniel fasted 21 days while he sought the Lord. Then he fell on his face when he met the Lord Jesus Christ by the Tigris River. Then he bowed down to the ground, totally exhausted, when he heard the angel’s explanation.
Last night I got a call from my friend Bruce Thorn in Sheffield, Alabama. He calls me three or four times a year and each time it seems as if what he has to say is a message from God to me. When I mentioned this sermon, he shared what God had been saying to him about the need to advance boldly against the devil and his kingdom. Then he said, “Ray, you’ve got to tell your people that spiritual warfare is serious business.” He’s right. This is not war games. This is war! We are locked in a battle against spiritual forces that are vast beyond all human comprehension. Unless we rely completely on the Lord, we are certain to be defeated.
It’s easy to say, “Lord, bless me and my family. And by the way, thank you for this food. Amen.” That’s good but it’s hardly the kind of prayer that will cause Satan to tremble. It’s time for all of us to raise the bar and enter into serious spiritual warfare.
D. If we could see the invisible, we would be amazed at the forces of good and evil all around us.
Daniel 10 tells us that behind the movement of men and nations unseen spiritual forces are at work. No one could have known simply by looking at the Persian court that a great battle was going on between an angel and the “prince of Persia.” But when the curtain is pulled back, we see angels and demons battling against each other while human leaders are completely unaware of what is going on.
Satan often uses his emissaries to influence government leaders to turn against the people of God. It was true in Persia and in Greece. It is true in Washington, Springfield, and Chicago. It is certainly true in Oak Park. This chapter proves conclusively that Satan does not believe in the separation of church and state. He has no problems using his evil minions to harass and hinder the work of God in the world.
But there is another, encouraging side to all of this. Second Kings 6 tells of a time when the mighty army of Syria surrounded the Israelites in a city called Dothan. It appeared the situation was totally hopeless. When Elisha’s servant saw the armies of the enemy on every hand, he despaired and cried out, “What shall we do?” Elisha answered with words that seemed to make no sense, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha asked the Lord to open the eyes of his servant. When the servant looked around, he saw above the army of Syria the flaming chariots of the army of God.
If only we could see beyond the visible. But we can’t, which is why this story in Daniel 10 is so crucial. It reminds us that just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If for one second we could truly see with the eyes of God, we would behold a vast array of supernatural beings, both angels and demons, all around us.
There is much more to this universe than meets the eye.
E. The chief weapons of our spiritual warfare are humility, prayer, knowledge, and perseverance.
I find this final point most encouraging. Since we can’t see the angels and the demons, we don’t need to worry about what they are doing. Our part is to walk humbly before the Lord, to seek his face in prayer, to grow in knowledge from the Word of God, and to persevere in faithfulness no matter how tough the times may be.
When I think about the Christians whose faith I admire, I immediately think of those in our fellowship who are going through hard times: Steve & Robin Meyer, Sandy Spisiak, Jessica Shultes, Tom & April Drost, and Mabel Scheck, to name only a few. These are true heroes because they have chosen to believe in God in the face of difficult personal circumstances. And there are many others who are fighting to save their marriages or trying to keep their family together or struggling with health issues or praying earnestly for God to move on their behalf.
May God bless all those believers who have decided not to quit in the face of adversity. I am struck by the words of the angel in verse 19: “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” Twice he says “Be strong” as if he knows how tired Daniel is and how easy it would be to give up altogether.
This is God’s word to all of us today. Are you under attack from the enemy? Never give up! Do you feel like quitting? Never give up! Are you fighting for your marriage? Never give up! Are you trying to be strong in the face of temptation? Never give up! Do you face a barrage of criticism for doing what you know is right? Never give up! Are you tired of the struggle? God’s word is clear. Never give up.
Let the people of God take courage. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Run to the Cross when you feel faint. Lean heavily on the Lord.
Are you tempted to quit? Pick up your armor and get back in the battle. When the day is done, you will be standing on the victory side. Let nothing turn you aside. Fear not, and fight on.
Never give up. Never, never, never, never, never give up.
Stand your ground for Jesus Christ. And never give up. Never. Amen.