Daniel has been mourning here in chapter 10, for the trials God had shown were to come upon his people, and he had sought assurance from God that they would not be destroyed by the particularly intense persecution that the last part of the preceding vision describes. In fact, he may have been troubled by even more immediate concerns. The third year of the reign of Cyrus in Babylon would have been the year 535/534 B.C., just a few years before his death.

This places the vision one to two years after the first group of exiles had returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, the Persian-appointed governor of Judah; and Joshua, the high priest. They arrived in the summer of 536 B.C., by autumn had cleared the temple area and resumed the daily sacrifices, and by the following spring had laid the foundation of the temple. But then the work stopped. It stopped for fifteen years until God sent Haggai, one of the minor prophets, to instruct the remnant to resume the work, which they did. By 535/534 B.C. Daniel may have heard of the cessation of the work and been alarmed by it.

This chapter gives insight into Daniel’s concern for his people and for the work being done so far away in Jerusalem. It also contains important lessons about prayer. However, it opens the door on the spiritual warfare that we know from other passages is being waged around the work of God. The chapter begins by saying that the message Daniel received “concerned a great conflict [war].” But before this earthly war is described, we are given a glimpse of a greater earlier war going on in heaven.

The story recounts how on the twenty-fourth day of the first month of the year (that is, on the twenty-fourth of Nisan, just ten days after the Passover), after Daniel had been mourning and praying for three weeks and as he stood on the bank of the Tigris River, he suddenly saw an angel. Angels are not usually described in much detail in Scripture. But this angel is described as “dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold 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.” This figure was so overpowering that Daniel’s strength fled away and he fell to the ground as if he were in a deep sleep. Even when the angel came to him, touched him, and raised him up, he still stood trembling.

Then the angel spoke, “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 to come.

Remarkable! When Daniel prayed, God sent this powerful heavenly being to bring him the vision of the future. But “the prince of the Persian kingdom,” whom we must understand to be an evil but correspondingly powerful spirit (not a mere mortal ruler), resisted him so that for three weeks he was not able to come to Daniel. It must have been a great struggle, because it required the special intervention of Michael, the archangel, to resolve it. When Michael was sent, the battle between these good and evil spirits tipped in the direction of the spirit messenger, and he arrived at last to give to Daniel God’s message. This is a remarkable glimpse into the battles that are being waged in heaven. Although it is different from anything we find elsewhere in the Word of God, it nevertheless fits what we are taught about spiritual warfare.

In Revelation 12 there is another scene that has bearing on this warfare. An actual battle is described, involving the same archangel Michael. This passage is the closest parallel in Scripture to the heavenly messenger’s struggle to reach Daniel, recorded here.

The key passage of all these biblical references to spiritual warfare is the concluding portion of Ephesians in which the apostle Paul encourages Christians to arm themselves with God’s armor and stand against Satan’s power. They are to play their part in these battles. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance…” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

According to these verses, the kind of spiritual warfare we see in Daniel affects every Christian.