Daniel 11 – Prophecy
The vision which Daniel received in Daniel 10-12, is the longest one in the book of Daniel. It gives a description to Daniel of the future of God’s people. Parts of it are quite clear, detailed and precise which has led many modern theologians to the conclusion that this part of Daniel (chapter 10-12) was not written by Daniel, but by a historian. Since it becomes vague in its description after 165 BC, it is concluded that the historian lived around this time.
It is important for us to maintain that the Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible and also author of these chapters. God himself governs all creation and he is the One who makes everything happen. Why would it be impossible for him to know and foretell in the days of Daniel what was going to happen in the centuries thereafter? There is no reason for us to believe that these chapters were not written by Daniel.
The purpose of this vision is to show to Daniel and to God’s people that God has assigned Michael, one of the mightiest angels, to his people, to protect and defend them. Even though it may seem as if Israel is an unimportant people in the world and Canaan is only a small piece of land, God is looking after them. Looking at this world from a heavenly perspective gives us a completely different picture than many on this earth want to make us believe! The entire battle on earth is about God’s people, from the Old Testament to now! Already for thousands of years the Middle East, the area where Israel is situated, was a constant battle field between superpower countries, far more powerful than Israel. Why is it that God chose this piece of land, Canaan, for his people?
It is because his people must know that they must depend on God. They should put their trust in him, or else they would be destroyed in the battles between those superpowers. God put his people somewhere where they would be a stumbling block for all those who raise themselves against God. And Israel itself can only remain standing if it totally depends on God.
These chapters show what will happen in the future. It will not be nice for God’s people. There will be times of persecution. Although the Babylonian exile was a punishment for the sins and disobedience of God’s people, this persecution after the return from exile is not characterized as a punishment. Here it is God’s enemies who rise up against God and try to blaspheme God and destroy his worship service. But then God also shows that they will not prevail. They will come to their end and another will take their place. Until ultimately, also those will be destroyed and God’s people will be delivered (see 12:1, 2).
History of salvation
These chapters describe what would happen between the return out of exile (the first year of Darius) and the coming of Christ (chapter 11), and the second coming of Christ (chapter 12). Much of chapter 11 is historically recognizable, particularly if you take a history book and read it alongside this chapter.
Not everything that will happen in the intervening years is mentioned in this vision. It does not even mention the most important things that a history book would mention. This vision is all about the future of God’s people. It does not describe the history (or future) of the world, but what will happen to God’s people, and, even more important, what must happen on the way to the coming of the Saviour. Certain events that are important in world history are left out, because they were not important in the history of salvation.
An example is in verse 2 where we read about three more kings which shall arise in Persia, and then a fourth one. A history book will show that there were quite a few more kings than only three. This verse describes a period of two hundred years of Persian rule, during which time there were at least nine kings. But we should not read three and four literally. It is a familiar Hebraism, where “three more” is used to indicate more than one or two. We can find this in other passages such as Amos 1:3, 6, and Proverbs 30:15, 18, 21, 29. It is not the intention here to give a precise number. The point he makes is that the wealth of the Persian Empire will increase, but it also invites an attack from other empires, even the kingdom of Greece. Then he (Xerxes) will stir up all against the kingdom of Greece, but he will be defeated and a great king shall arise, the Greek king Alexander the Great. But Alexander died young, at the age of 33 and his kingdom was divided among four tetrarchs.
We won’t go into detail of what happened next. What is clear is that a constant struggle arises between the southern empire (mainly Egypt) and the northern empire. Between those two empires lay the holy land. The armies of those empires march back and forth through the holy land, and some violent men among Daniel's own people (verse 14) will even participate in the wars. But they shall fail and they will be defeated. This describes how the Jews tried to gain independence in a time in which the four empires were fighting each other. For a while the Jews succeeded, but, at the end when one empire grew stronger than the rest, they were conquered again.
The empires continually struggle for power during this time period. Verse 16 describes the glorious land that will be brought into the power of the king of the north. In verse 17 it speaks about a peace treaty between the king of the north and the king of the south. The king of the north will give one of his daughters to the king of the south as a wife, with the purpose of bringing the king of the south under his power, but the union will not last. This again draws attention to the ineffectiveness of human intrigue. Man may make his plans, but if God decides differently, it will not happen. A refrain in these verses are the words ‘arise’, ‘be strong’ and ‘shall not stand’. Despite the fact that rulers become strong, suddenly they stand no longer. Their kingdoms are broken, and they fall. Their conquests did not bring them lasting glory.
The king of the Greek Empire will be defeated by a commander (verse 18). This commander (Seleucus IV), who had many debts which he could not pay, and therefore tried to raise money by exacting tribute (verse 20), did not remain for long. He was murdered by his prime minister, Heliodorus (see 2 Maccabees 3, one of the apocryphal books). Then his place was taken by a contemptible person to whom royal majesty had not been given (verse 21). Historians agree that this must have been Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163 BC). He is described as a despicable person, who gets power by bribery and deceit. This marks the beginning of a terrible time for God's people. He will break the “prince of the covenant” (v.22) – the High Priest of Israel, Onias III, who was deposed in 175 and assassinated as the result of intrigues against him in 171 BC.
From that moment on, the secular state will continue to interfere with the spiritual government of God’s people. The Romans would do so in Jerusalem and later also with the leaders of the Christian church. Even until now, state governments do not hesitate to remove from office and subject to persecution, and sometimes even death, those who are legitimately set over God’s people. But, by doing so, they attack the God of the covenant himself!
This contemptible ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, wanted to bring the empire of the south, which is Egypt, under his power as well. He did so in treacherous ways. The king of Egypt was betrayed by his own counsellors. Verse 27 speaks about the two kings sitting at the same table negotiating, but this round-table conference was dominated by lies being spoken by both parties. But these lies are to no avail, “because the end is yet to be at the time appointed”. God determines what happens and it will happen at his time.
When Antiochus returns to his own land, animosity breaks out against the people of God (‘the holy covenant’) again. The name ‘holy covenant’ is being used here, to emphasize that it is the people of God’s covenant, and any opponent of it is anti-God. This verse describes very shortly the terrible things that had happened: the temple was profaned and many believers had been murdered.
Things would get worse. When Antiochus went again to Egypt, things went differently this time. The Romans came into play, and he had to withdraw. This made him so angry that he took out his anger on the people of the holy covenant. He drove a wedge between the faithful and those who forsook the holy covenant, the unfaithful. Then he went even farther than the first time (verse 28), and he utterly profaned the temple, taking away the regular burnt offering and building an altar on the altar of burnt offering, for another god, probably Zeus Olympios, the god of the Greeks. This is called “the abomination that makes desolate” (verse 31). These words are used here to express disgust and avoid all mention of the despicable name of this false god. This event is described in 1 Maccabees 1. Antiochus forced the Jews to give up the law and the worship service of God, and to sacrifice pigs to his god. Anyone who did not obey these commandments would die.
Not all the Jews obeyed him. The people who knew their God stood firm and took action. There was resistance and faithfulness to God. But that was at the price of suffering. “They shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.” (verse 33)
Verse 34 speaks about the little help that they receive and many will join them with flattery. Maybe here is meant the movement of the Maccabees, who were initially quite successful in their resistance against Antiochus. They rededicated the temple. But it is called only “little help”. It is talking more here about the martyrdom of God’s faithful than the work of the Maccabees. We can see from history that the work of the Maccabees in the end comes to failure. That movement is not important here. What is important is that God has a purpose in his plan with this suffering of his people. He will refine them and bring it to an end at the time he has appointed.
Verse 36 continues about Antiochus and his arrogance. He will make himself god. He will exalt himself above all the gods, even above the God of gods, the only true God. He assumes the name ‘God Manifest’ (Epiphanes). Ironically, it is said that he will honour the god of fortresses (verse 38). He puts his trust in his own strength, his own war-machine. Even though he wants to be god himself, also he has his own gods.
It is generally accepted that what is described in Daniel 11:21-45 applies to Antiochus Epiphanes. There are, however, several elements that do not fit in. Many theologians believe that the second half of this chapter refers not only to Antiochus but also to many other anti-Christs after him. Some believe that the entire part starting in verse 21 refers not only to Antiochus, but also to others after him. Others believe that verse 21-36 is mainly about Antiochus and the part starting in verse 36 is then also about others. Already from the days of the early Church Fathers (in the first centuries of the Christian Church) there is disagreement whether the turning point is in verse 21 or 36. Keep in mind while comparing these verses to history books, that it is not the purpose of this part to give exact details, but it is meant as a prophecy for the church of all times.
As occurs more often in the Old and New Testament, there is more than one fulfilment of this prophecy. Just as with the book of Revelation and other prophetic books, the first fulfilment occurs in the time of the prophecy. This prophecy was meant in the first place for God’s people in those difficult days of persecution, to encourage them with the knowledge that everything has a place in God’s plan, to refine his people and purify them, making them white (verse 35). But it is also part of the Bible, and with that it also has a message for us. We can learn from this that from time to time there will be anti-Christs, but God is in control. Verse 36 says that the king shall do as he wills, but we know that above that is God doing what he wills. Throughout this chapter we read that the proud are often brought low or suddenly taken out by death. It is just as God did with Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4) or Belshazzar (Daniel 5). The theme of the book of Daniel is that God rules and God works out his plan.
Antiochus comes to his end by the hand of the Romans “at the time of the end”, that is, the end of the time appointed for him. Again, as mentioned before, this part does not only write about Antiochus but about others who act against God’s people as well. Especially in verse 40-45, the details are not correct if they would speak only about Antiochus. Therefore we should see them here more in general, as applying to all oppressors of God’s people. After Antiochus comes to his end, the Roman oppression becomes harsh and cruel. Tens of thousands are killed. The surrounding peoples of Edom, Moab and the Ammonites will join the Romans and escape destruction, but with that they also become persecutors of God’s people.
During their time in power, the Romans will try to get all the treasures of Egypt. But they will withdraw because of news from the eastern and northern parts of the empire. It is unsure what is meant here and we must see this more as a general statement. The ruler may think he has everything under control, but enemies will rise at other ends of his empire. Here again we see the work of God who thwarts the plans of men.
The oppressor will pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. He will remain in the holy land. But the people of God must know that he also will come to his end. That is not only true for the Romans, but for all oppressors and persecutors of God’s people. Thus this the vision is not only for the people of God who lived in those days, but also for us and the church of all times. Persecutors will come to their end as well, and then there will be none to help them. But God’s people may put their trust in God and he will always help them and at the end vindicate them. In times of trials and persecution, always keep in mind what the end will be (see Psalm 73)!
- As Christians we often fear persecution. What comfort can we take after reading Daniel 11? Is there a time to welcome persecution?
- What parallels do we see between Daniel 11 and our own present time? How is it possible to say that the enemy changes, yet remains the same?
- From time to time an anti-Christ will appear. How will the anti-Christ act? What will he seek to destroy? What will happen? (see Daniel 11:36-45)
- Compare the similarities between the evil king (vv.21-45) and the “little horn” (Daniel 8). How are their deeds and characteristics similar and how are they different?
- Read Psalm 73. How do the words of this psalm apply to the passage that we just read?
- Sometimes people wonder what the benefit of studying history is. What would you answer?