Pulling back the curtain – on spiritual warfare: Daniel 10

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Today’s reading: Daniel 10-12.

“Is there really spiritual warfare that I can’t see? Should I be concerned about it?”

Daniel’s visions troubled him greatly, and he prayed for understanding. God sent an angelic messenger to explain the meaning of his visions, and the angel’s words give us a glimpse into the unseen world of spiritual warfare.

“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. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” Daniel 10:12-14 

Spiritual warfare responds to prayer. When Daniel saw the fearsome vision that he did not understand, he prayed and fasted for three weeks. The angel said that his words were heard and that he came in response to them.

Spiritual warfare takes time. How surprising that the actions of eternal beings work out in the framework of earthly time! The important point is that we should always be patient while God works and continue to pray.

Spiritual warfare pits God’s angels against Satan’s demons. God and Satan aren’t equals, but they both have immortal servants who are the actors in the ongoing struggle to accomplish God’s will. The battleground is earth, whose temporary master is the devil.

Spiritual warfare deals with God’s efforts to help, and Satan’s effort to hinder, God’s people. This battle isn’t about matters that don’t concern us. It deals with our own welfare and God’s kingdom. It’s vital that we stay involved in the conflict.

Daniel wasn’t the only Biblical figure to write about spiritual warfare. Here are some other pearls about this supernatural struggle.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12

The focus of our struggle. Paul wanted us to open our eyes and see that the conflict is rooted in a hierarchy of spiritual powers opposed to God’s will. I can’t overcome my own lust, or another person’s mistreatment of me, without putting on my spiritual armor to win the fight.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:7-9

The origin of the struggle. The war began in heaven when Satan rebelled against God, but the conflict has moved to earth.

So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16-17

The invisibility of the struggle. Elisha’s servant only saw the earthly forces of a human enemy, but the prophet opened his eyes and he was amazed to see God’s supernatural army standing ready to fight. We should remember that God’s invisible army stands ready, when needed, to support us.

We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one. I John 5:18-19

The limitations of our struggle. God protects believers from the touch of the evil one, but the evil one holds the lost world in his power. Rather than claiming whole cities or nations for God when the Bible says they are under Satan’s power, we should be humble in our approach and carefully seek God’s will when waging war. I think we are on much stronger footing when we battle for individual souls.

To be a Christian is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battle-field. Neither must he reckon upon the friendship of the world; for that would be enmity against God. His occupation is war. As he puts on piece by piece of the panoply provided for him, he may wisely say to himself, “This warns me of danger; this prepares me for warfare; this prophesies opposition.” Charles Spurgeon

An outline of the end: Daniel 7-9

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Today’s reading: Daniel 7-9. 

“Will believers have to go through tribulation in the end times?”

Expert at interpreting the king’s dreams, Daniel begins having dreams or visions of his own that defy his understanding. An angel tells him that he has seen events that will take place at the end of time.

The rise of the ten-horned beast. The beast is a kingdom, the last in a long succession. In the end-times a boastful man arises and overthrows three kings to take control of this kingdom and the world. He wages war against the saints of God and seeks to crush the world. The saints are handed over to him for “a time, times, and half a time,” usually interpreted as three and a half years.

The seating of the Ancient of Days. God takes his seat on the throne and ends the rule of the beast. He opens the books of judgment and throws the beast into the fire.

The coming of the Son of Man. He comes on the clouds of heaven and is given eternal authority and dominion. People of every ethnic group worship him and his kingdom never ends.

Daniel understands that the seventy years of Israel’s captivity are completed, and he prays a mighty prayer that leads God to release them from bondage. Then God gives Daniel a timeline for the coming years – not seventy years but seventy sevens of years. The timeline begins when the decree goes out to rebuild Jerusalem. After 69 sevens, or 483 years, the Anointed One or Messiah will come, but he will be cut off. Decrees to re-establish the nation of Israel went out in 457 and 445 BC, and depending on whether you use the 360-day year of the ancient world, or the modern 365-day year, the time of the Messiah’s service comes out to 27-30 AD when Jesus was actively ministering.

One final seven-year period remains unaccounted for. It is postponed until some indefinite future, but Daniel’s prophecy implies it will be after the destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 70 AD). At that time a ruler will come, most likely the boastful man of the beast, and he will set the final years in motion.

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. Daniel 9:27

Three and a half years into the covenant the ruler will end sacrifices and offerings and set up an abominable image in a future temple. Most interpreters believe this is a desecration of a future Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Three and a half years of the final seven remain, and this is likely to be the time that the boastful man wages war against the people of God.

These future trials frighten us, but we should remain faithful and courageous knowing that God knows the end and controls the outcome. He will end the brief reign of terror of the boastful man and usher in the eternal kingdom of the Son of Man. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Matthew 24:15-22

The insanity of pride: Daniel 4

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Today’s reading: Daniel 4-6.

Nebuchadnezzar should have known better. He had witnessed the power of God in the lives of Daniel and his friends repeatedly. He even praised the God of Daniel for his works. Finally, the LORD gave him a dream about the danger of failing to acknowledge God. Daniel interpreted the dream for him and warned him to act before it was too late. Still the king hesitated.

…as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you.  You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Daniel 4:29-32

The king lost his sanity and acted like an animal. His illness was God’s response to his boasting and pride. Let me be clear that mental illness is not usually due to pride. More often it is a result of genetics, abuse, trauma, or great loss. But in the king’s life it sprang directly from his pride.

Belshazzar was the final Babylonian king, and pride also caused his fall. On the night that the Medes conquered Babylon, Belshazzar held a party and called for the gold goblets from the temple in Jerusalem. Soon God was tracing his judgment of doom on the palace wall. Daniel interpreted the words for the king, declaring that God had weighed him and found him wanting. He reminded the king that his predecessor had failed to acknowledge God and paid for it with his sanity.

“But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.  Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” Daniel 5:22-23

One of the kings received mercy; the other didn’t. Nebuchadnezzar finally repented of his pride after seven seasons of insanity, and God restored  his kingdom. He acknowledged that dominion belonged to God and that he reigned supreme over every man. Belshazzar made no such profession, and his life ended the very night God passed judgment on him.

God gives grace to the humble. Therefore, let us humble ourselves by acknowledging God’s power and dominion. Let’s submit to his word and his will. If we practice the prideful ways of men like Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, we would be insane to expect a different outcome.

Living a life that glorifies God: Daniel 1-3

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Today’s reading: Daniel 1-3.

“Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings…”

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was present at the Vienna Music Hall, where his oratorio The Creation was being performed.  Weakened by age, the great composer was confined to a wheelchair.  As the majestic work moved along, the audience was caught up with tremendous emotion. When the passage “And there was light!” was reached, the chorus and orchestra burst forth in such power that the crowd could no longer restrain its enthusiasm. The vast assembly rose in spontaneous applause.  Haydn struggled to stand and motioned for silence. With his hand pointed toward heaven, he said, “No, no, not from me, but from thence comes all!”  Daily Bread, September 20, 1992.

The Book of Daniel is known for its prophecies, but in the first three chapters it demonstrates how to glorify God by living a set-apart life.

Chapter One. Daniel and his friends chose to eat only those foods that they believed were fitting for God’s people. They refused the king’s delicacies because they felt it would defile them. They were allowed to follow their vegetarian diet for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. Daniel 1:15-17

God responded to Daniel’s faithfulness by giving him great knowledge and wisdom. The king took notice and said that Daniel and his friends were ten times better than all the other men.

Chapter Two. The king had a disturbing dream and demanded an interpretation, but refused to tell anyone what he dreamed. After a night of prayer God gave Daniel the dream and its meaning, and Daniel shared both with the king.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”  Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.  The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:45-47

Chapter Three. Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down to a golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar built. As punishment he threw the three men into a blazing-hot furnace. Instead of burning up in the flames, the king was amazed to see them walking around with a fourth man “like a son of the gods.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28

In each of these stories the king saw a convincing demonstration of God’s power in the lives of ordinary men.

  • He saw men who lived a different lifestyle in order to obey God.
  • He saw a man who spoke with God.
  • He saw men who were willing to die for their faith in God.

Daniel and his friends glorified God by the lives they lived. They were different in a godly way. Their walk with God allowed him to give them power and wisdom. They took a stand for the LORD, and he used their faithfulness to magnify his own name. Today, as you live your life, don’t be afraid to be different from the world. Don’t forget that God is the source of wisdom and understanding. Don’t hesitate to take a stand for the LORD so that he can magnify himself when he rescues you.

Image by Steven Depolo on Flickr, CC by 2.0

The power of living water: Ezekiel 47

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Today’s reading: Ezekiel 46-48.

“Give me this water that I may never thirst again.”

Jesus hinted at the power of living water to the woman at the well, but Ezekiel saw it in action. It began as a small stream flowing out from beneath the millennial temple. It didn’t stay small.

The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in–a river that no one could cross. Ezekiel 47:1-5

Streams grow bigger as they flow along because of the tributaries that join them. The living water flowing down from Ezekiel’s temple grew rapidly without any such help. In a little more than a mile it expanded from a trickle to a raging river no man could cross. That was only the start of its power.

  • The trees along its banks never failed to bear fruit in every season.
  • The leaves of the trees it fed healed disease.
  • It turned the Dead Sea from salt to fresh water and made it teem with fish.

The Psalmist saw the river and rejoiced. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Zechariah also saw it, flowing out from the city to the east and to the west after the Day of the LORD. But their visions, and Ezekiel’s, were just a prelude to the ultimate river that flows from God’s throne in the new Heaven and Earth.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

We don’t have to wait to see the power of the waters of life. The same power flows through each believer today. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38). This living water gives eternal life. It bears fruit. It heals the sickness of sin. It has the power to bring abundance to life. It grows greater, not smaller, with time. By the Holy Spirit this power lives in each believer now. We need to release it and watch God’s kingdom grow.

Image by Daniele Zedda on Flickr, CC by 2.0

The Eastern Gate: Ezekiel 43-45

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Today’s reading: Ezekiel 43-45.

On Palm Sunday Jesus Christ rode a donkey from the Mount of Olives down through the Kidron Valley and up into Jerusalem through the east-facing Golden Gate. Within forty years the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem with its walls and gates, but Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt them in the 1500’s. As you can see in the picture, Suleiman closed up the Eastern Gate, perhaps because of Jewish beliefs that the Messiah would return through that entrance.

Centuries before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Ezekiel saw a vision of a future temple with surrounding walls and an Eastern Gate. The size of the visionary temple indicates it won’t be built until the topography of Palestine is drastically altered at Jesus’ second coming. When this future temple is completed, the glory of the LORD returns through the Eastern Gate just as it departed before the Babylonians destroyed the city. Then the gate is shut.

Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. The LORD said to me, “This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it. The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way.” Ezekiel 44:1-3

Suleiman’s gate is closed for now, but when Jesus returns a geological cataclysm will wipe away his gate and prepare the way for a new temple and gate. God’s shekinah glory will enter through that millennial gate and then the gate will be closed once more. A prince will  rule over this millennial temple and city, but  only as regent for the ruling King, Jesus Christ.Throughout the millennium, he and his successors will administer the city and its priests as throngs of Jewish believers from around the world come to the temple. God’s promises to the Jewish nation will be fulfilled and they will worship him in spirit and truth.

But this temple isn’t everlasting. At the end of the millennium, after the final defeat of Satan, God creates a new heaven and earth. The Holy City, New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven, God dwells with men, and there is no temple in the city, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

One more temple needs to be mentioned, the temple that stands right now, the temple that is exists within each believer. Let’s worship there today. Purify yourselves from your sin, come before God with praise, and give thanks for his loving kindness that endures forever.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthian 6:16

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 1 Corinthians 3:16

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Image by Nikodem Nijaki on Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 3.0

A new temple: Ezekiel 40-42

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Today’s reading: Ezekiel 40-42.

The exiles in Babylon needed encouragement. They had been prisoners there for 25 years. The Babylonians had destroyed their beloved city of Jerusalem and its temple 14 years earlier. Their heart’s desire was to return home, but that seemed like a dream now. A whole new generation of Jews was growing up who had never seen Jerusalem. In this setting the prophet Ezekiel is given another vision of the temple. This time it isn’t the old temple that God’s spirit abandoned and destroyed, but a more majestic future temple. In the vision, Ezekiel follows a man with a measuring line who walks through the giant temple and records every detail.

Then he measured the temple; it was a hundred cubits long, and the temple courtyard and the building with its walls were also a hundred cubits long. The width of the temple courtyard on the east, including the front of the temple, was a hundred cubits. Then he measured the length of the building facing the courtyard at the rear of the temple, including its galleries on each side; it was a hundred cubits. The outer sanctuary, the inner sanctuary and the portico facing the court, as well as the thresholds and the narrow windows and galleries around the three of them–everything beyond and including the threshold was covered with wood. Ezekiel 41:13-16

Some believe that the temple of Ezekiel’s vision is not real but only symbolic. However, the detail of the description, like an architectural plan, argues against this idea. Also, God tells Ezekiel to show the Jewish exiles the plans “so that they may be faithful to its design.”

The most dramatic feature of the future temple is its size – about a mile square including the building and its courtyards with surrounding walls. The old city of Jerusalem was not quite as big in its entirety, and certainly not flat enough to hold the visionary temple. For this reason scholars assume that the new temple will be built in the millennium after Jesus returns and a geological cataclysm reshapes the geography of the Middle East. (see Zechariah 14:4-10).

The most surprising activity of the temple, for Christians who look to Jesus as the final sacrifice who died once for all, is the resumption of sacrificial offerings in this future millennial temple. Levite priests descended from Zadok will administer the temple offerings. Some experts say the offerings are a memorial, looking back to Jesus’ atoning death as our communion service of bread and wine looks back to his death on the cross. Others believe the offerings are necessary to maintain the holiness of the temple.

Ezekiel’s grand temple was in the future but it gave hope to a struggling remnant that they would be restored to their promised land. Christians can look to that future millennial temple and praise God for his faithfulness to his word. His promise-keeping with Israel strengthens our faith that he will keep his promises to believers who are saved by the new covenant of grace.

Temple drawing by Charles Chipiez.