Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Spiritual Realm

Chapters 10-12 of Daniel make up a complete section, with 10 being the introduction to a new message that God brings to Daniel.  Before the prophecy, however, there is a new perspective on the spiritual realm that is given to Daniel, like a mini-vision.  It's not the message, but it is a powerful revelation about God's workings that we can learn from.

This is the third year of King Cyrus of Persia. He has already made the decree to send Israel back to its land and rebuild. Daniel did not return.  Probably because he was too old, but also God needed him to stay where he was. Daniel has been mourning for three weeks.  Why?  Remember what Ezra finds when he goes to Jerusalem?  Israel has fallen back into its sinful ways again, and he needs to preach the gospel to them.  That's years away, though.  Daniel's mourning is probably because he has seen how few people of Israel have accepted the king's offer to return.  They have fallen away to the point of indifference.

Now, Daniel is visited by an angel. The description of the man from verse 5 onward is very similar to John's description of Christ at the beginning of Revelation.  So this may be a Christophany, a vision of Jesus before the incarnation.  However, it may be Gabriel, who visited Daniel before.  It may be another Angel of the Lord, representing God to Daniel and speaking with his words. Daniel alone sees the vision, and the men who are with him do not, even though they are filled with terror and run away, leaving the angel alone with Daniel.  See Acts 9, where Saul is confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus and yet the ones who are with Saul see nothing. Daniel's reaction is the same as John's in Revelation: his strength leaves him, and he falls on his face.  Yet, it is God himself, who lifts us up.  We cannot stand in God's presence except that God forces us to rise.  Likewise, in verse 15, Daniel is mute, but when the angel touches his lips, he can then speak.  God is in control of our responses to his glory.  Think of the Lord touching Jeremiah's lips in his first chapter, or in Isaiah 6, when the Angel touches his lips with a burning coal.  In that case, the burning coal represented Christ, because Isaiah's sins had been atoned for and his guilt taken away.

Not only does Daniel see characters from the supernatural realm, he sees events that are taking place there.  Like in chapter 9, God sent his Word to Daniel as soon as he began praying, but the Word was delayed, in this case for three weeks.  Why? Because spiritual warfare is taking place.  Here is a clear presentation of what goes on behind the scenes in the supernatural realm.  We see this in many places in scripture.  In this case, the Word of God was delayed because a demon (prince) who is in control of Persia delayed it coming, and the Archangel Michael was sent to do battle, so that this current angel, be it Gabriel or another, could get the answer to Daniel.

Each evil nation has its own "prince," and Daniel is told that when Persia's demon is vanquished, Greece's demon will come to power.  But here is where in hopelessness, new hope is sown.  Israel has its own "prince:" Michael.  In verse 11:1 the angel speaking to Daniel reveals that he himself strengthened Darius two years prior.  This was probably in connection with the decree to permit the Jews to return to their homeland.  Long story short: God fights for us.  God sends us angels to fight for us.  Daniel doesn't command Michael.  Indeed, he has only just been made aware of him, but Daniel mourns and prays for his people, and God hears his prayers and acts by sending defense. 

Our first thoughts are, "Why does God allow this situation?  Isn't he God?  Can't God just wipe out the demons with one fell swoop? Can't he get the message through to Daniel instantaneously?"  Yes, of course he can!  Ours is not an impotent God.  But we must remember one of the 5 solas: Solo Deo Gloria, or "for the Glory of God alone."  Everything God does is to glorify himself to world, and if that means allowing devils to gain earthly footholds so that his angels can do battle with them, then that is what needs to be done.  That's why, even though the actual prophecy doesn't come until chapter 11, this vision of the goings on in the spiritual realm is very important.  Why does God achieve salvation for his children in certain ways?  He has his reasons.  Why does he allow evil to seem to flourish?  He has his reasons.  Here are some clues:

Peter writes in his second epistle, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."  A drawn out, spiritual battle gives people a chance to choose sides.  Which prince are you following?  The evil princes of Persia and Greece, or God's princes of Israel: Michael and Gabriel?

Paul writes in the ninth chapter of Romans, "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory..."  What inspires and reveals the glory of a kingdom more than a military victory?  We don't have to see the battle take place, we just have to know that its happening, like in 1666 when the English sailed out to battle the Dutch, the people of London couldn't witness the battle but they would hear back of the victories.  We can't see the battles, but the scriptures tell us that we are on the right side, and that our kingdom is and will be victorious.

We must not think the war between angels and demons should be the focus of our attention.  Many think the Christian life is about commanding angels to do our bidding and to rebuke the demons.  If something terrible happens to believers, our first reaction is to think there's a demon involved and get to work in spiritual warfare.  Remember, God disciplines those he loves, and he allows evil to happen as chastisement for believers and judgment on unbelievers.  Pray to God, not to demons or even good angels.  We are aware that the battle is happening, and that is enough, because the real purpose of knowing that such is taking place in the spiritual realm is to turn our attention back to Jesus Christ.

Even the angels are types and shadows of Christ, doing battle on our behalf, just as Christ did against the devil, rescuing us from Satan's clutches by the sacrifice of himself on the cross at cavalry.  The vision that Daniel is given of the supernatural, revealed to us today in the pages of scripture, is another aid, pointing us to Christ and the foot of the cross.

The vision, like the others before it, is disturbing and does not quench Daniel's terror.  In fact, it increases the terror.  As Christians, we should be wary of being comfortable. Strength and courage come to us when we are at rock bottom.  If we are comfortable, we rely on ourselves.  When we fail in that regard, when we have nothing else, we turn to God and he brings us up.  The Christian life is full of God's discipline.  When we are being chastised, we cannot think of this as a failure at being a Christian.  This means we are getting God's attention at the moment, and he is molding us further, like a potter with his clay. We are being sanctified.

God loves us at our most repentant and vulnerable.  God loves us when we submit to his Word and repent of our own self-righteousness.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." Christ is making Daniel's path straight at this point, and he makes our paths straight by revealing his will in these pages. 

Jesus says in the beatitudes, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  Daniel mourned for Israel.  Christians mourn for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is our way of fighting on God's side for his kingdom, like Michael and Gabriel. The angels' actions are types and shadows of Christ's ultimate act in history.  All three of these levels--penitent prayer, spiritual warfare, and Christ's sacrifice--are three parts of the same whole: fighting for God's kingdom.