How Shall We Think About "Territorial Spirits"?
This chapter is the clearest reference in all the Bible to what people today are calling "territorial spirits." I want you to be aware of what is happening today in this realm of spiritual warfare, and I want us to think biblically about it. I don't want us to have our head in the sand as God awakens the church to spiritual realities long overlooked. And I don't want us to be naïve in believing everything we hear, or lopsided in letting a secondary biblical truth become a primary preoccupation.
I believe that territorial spirits are real, as they turn up in Daniel 10, and that they exist today. How then should we think about them? How do they fit in with other biblical truth? How should we pray in view of their reality? That's my goal this morning.
What's Happening in the World Today
Before we look at Daniel let me give you a taste of the kind of thing that is happening today.
Peter Wagner's Assessment
Peter Wagner just published a book called Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits. He believes that as we move into the '90s, the Holy Spirit is calling the church to a spiritual warfare with territorial spirits—evil spirits, demons, principalities, powers, world rulers of this present darkness, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)—which attach themselves to specific territories or regimes or institutions.
His assessment is that in the 1950s God began to ripen a harvest of souls as he put evangelism high on the church's agenda. In the 1960s God pressed the issues of compassion for the poor and oppressed on the conscience of the church. In the 1970s there were the first seeds of the growing prayer movement around the world. And in the 1980s, with the third wave, there has been a great emphasis on supernatural power in ministry, especially gifts relating to prophecy and healing. As we enter the 1990s, Peter Wagner sees spiritual warfare with territorial spirits moving to the forefront.
YWAM in Argentina
Of course, spiritual warfare is not new. But the way territorial spirits are being confronted seems to be new. For example, in Cordoba, Argentina, 200 Youth With A Mission missionaries gathered from around the world to tell fans at the World Cup (soccer playoffs) about Jesus. But no one seemed to be listening to their good news. Their evangelism efforts were listless and powerless; their Spanish tracts were ignored.
The missionaries decided to devote a day to prayer and fasting. In that meeting God revealed that Satan was not only busy with individuals, but that he had immersed himself deeply into the culture of the territory—especially in the form of pride. Cordoba was very sophisticated, fashion-conscious, and materialistic, and the people clung to their values of position, possessions, and appearance. The missionaries discerned that the only way this "territorial spirit" manifesting itself in pride would be overcome was by humility.
So they scattered themselves throughout the central mall shopping area and got down on their knees with their foreheads to the cobblestones in full view of passers-by and prayed for Jesus to be revealed to the city.
A breakthrough came immediately. Large curious crowds gathered to watch and listen. People took the tracts eagerly and even asked to have them autographed by the missionaries. John Dawson preached at the Plaza of St. Martin, and people in the crowd dropped to their knees repenting of their sins. His interpretation of what happened was that "the intimidation of the enemy was broken along with our pride."
In other words, the way many are doing spiritual warfare today is by moving into an area, seeking to discern supernaturally the spirit that Satan has assigned to oppress and blind and control the area, and then specifically serving notice on that spirit that Jesus Christ is triumphant in this place and breaking its spiritual hold on the region. S. D. Gordon said 90 years ago, "Intercession is winning the victory over the chief, and service is taking the field after the chief is driven off." That's the strategy that many seem to be applying today with a direct focus on territorial spirits.
The Teaching of Daniel 10
Let's look at Daniel 10 to see what it will teach us about these things.
Daniel's Vision and His Seeking to Understand It
Daniel receives a word from the Lord in verse 1—a vision of conflict that stunned him with its greatness. Verse 1b says that he understood it. But verse 12 it says that when he received the vision, he set himself to understand it. I take this to mean that the general structure of the vision was clear to him, but the meaning of its parts was not clear to him.
So Daniel set himself with tears and fasting and prayer to seek the meaning of the vision, and for three weeks he wrestled in prayer over this vision and sought to know God's will. Verse 2: "In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks."
Another Vision on the Banks of the Tigris
After three weeks he went out to the banks of the Tigris River (v. 4). There he had a vision that was so awesome he could hardly bear it. Verse 5: "I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with gold of Uphaz. 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 noise of a multitude."
In other words, his single voice sounded like the roars at the Metrodome. This appearance was so terrifying and so powerful that (according to verse 7) even the men who were with Daniel, who could not see the vision, trembled and ran away to hide themselves from whatever it was. Verses 8–9 say that Daniel lost his color, had no strength in him, and fell on his face.
God Answered Daniel's Prayer
To make matters worse (in v. 10) a hand reached out and touched him so that he shook terribly on his hands and knees. Then the voice said (v. 11): "O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you." Then he went on and said (v. 12): "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words [prayer!] have been heard, and I have come because of your words."
Now this is immensely important for understanding prayer. Notice the words: "I have come because of your words." Put that together with the words in verse 11: "I have been sent to you." That is, God sent him. So the point is that God answered your prayer as soon as you began to pray three weeks ago. "From the first day that you humbled yourself before your God your words [your prayers!] have been heard, and I have come because of your words [your prayer!]."
So this heavenly being has come because Daniel prayed and humbled himself before God and fasted. And the three week delay was not because God took three weeks to hear. What was it then?
Why the Three Week Delay?
Verse 13: "The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me." The reason the messenger of God was detained is because a spiritual being called "the prince of the kingdom of Persia" stood against him. And the reason this angelic messenger got free from this opposition was because the angel Michael came to help him.
This is the clearest example in all the Bible of what is called today a "territorial spirit." Verse 13 refers to "The prince of the kingdom of Persia." The natural meaning of this phrase would be that among the supernatural beings opposed to God, at least one is assigned to a territory or, more accurately, to a kingdom, namely, Persia. Presumably his job is to darken the people of Persia—to keep them from having the truth and the light of God's Word.
Other Enemy Spirits Rising Up
But this spirit is not the only one mentioned. Look at verses 20–21: "Then [the messenger from God] said, 'Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.'"
So the messenger is going back to fight against the prince of the kingdom of Persia and defeat him. And then there will appear on the scene another great enemy spirit, the prince of Greece. In other words, as different kingdoms rise and fall, different demonic spirits hold sway and have to be dealt with by God's messengers in accomplishing his purposes.
So it appears that there was a spirit over Persia and a spirit over Greece. But it also seems that Michael, the good angel, has some special assignment for Israel. Because it says at the end of verse 21: "Michael, your prince." And the "your" there is plural in Hebrew. This is not a reference to Daniel's guardian angel, but to Israel's guardian angel.
So I conclude from this that there is good biblical reason for thinking that there are powerful evil spirits with special appointments from Satan over kingdoms like Persia and Greece. In Luke 4:6 the devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and then tempts him with these words: "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will." He has an inflated notion of his power in relation to the sovereignty of God. But under God it is true that Satan is "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). And it is probably true that he gives his power to those who worship him (cf. Revelation 13:2). He is the "prince of demons" (Mark 3:22).
Since the New Testament tells us that this prince of demons "darkens the minds of unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 4:4), and that he "deceives the world" (Revelation 12:9), and that he plants his weeds (unbelievers) throughout the world (Matthew 13:39), and that he takes people captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:25), and that he plucks up the seed of the Word when it is preached (Matthew 13:4), and that he thwarts missionary activity (1 Thessalonians 2:18), and that he throws ministers in prison (Revelation 2:10)—since we know the prince of demons does all that, we may conclude with good reason that this is what his sub-princes do as well.
So then, I would conclude that there are high-ranking demonic powers over various regimes and dominions and governments and realms of the world; and that they work to create as much evil and corruption and spiritual darkness as they can. They strive to interrupt Christian missions and ministry as much as they can.
That is why the prince of the kingdom of Persia tried to hinder the messenger from reaching Daniel from heaven. The messenger was bringing a message of truth. Verse 21: the messenger says to Daniel, "But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth." But Satan is a liar and a deceiver from the beginning. The main aim of all his princes is to keep the book of truth from being known and believed. The truth frees people (John 8:32) and sanctifies people (John 17:17). So the territorial spirits like the prince of the kingdom of Persia do their main work of corruption and destruction by blinding the people of their area from the truth.
Implications for Ministry
How then shall we do ministry in view of this reality of "territorial spirits"?
1. Take the Supernatural Seriously
Take the supernatural seriously and realize that we are in a warfare that cannot and should not be domesticated by reinterpreting everything in the biblical worldview so that it fits nicely with secular, naturalistic ways of thinking about the world. Be ready for the extraordinary as well as the ordinary ways that evil spirits work. Don't be presumptuous, as though demons were weak; and don't be anxious, as though they were stronger than Jesus.
Be filled with the Spirit and well-armed with biblical promises about the authority of Jesus Christ and about your rights as a child of God. Remember that two times in our text the messenger from heaven said to Daniel, "O man greatly loved." The word means "desired" or "precious." He said this to take away Daniel's fear in the midst of spiritual warfare. And it should take away ours too.
2. Daniel Wasn't Praying About Angels
The second thing is to notice that Daniel's prayer that has such powerful effects in the spiritual realm was not a prayer about angels and territorial spirits. He was wrestling for truth and for the good of God's people the way we saw him praying last week. He was totally shocked when an angel appeared to him. And he knew nothing about the conflict with the prince of the kingdom of Persia.
But it's no accident that the messenger said that his struggle with the prince of Persian lasted exactly the same amount of time that Daniel's fasting and prayer did (cf. vv. 2, 13)—21 days. The reason for this is that the warfare in the spirit realm was being fought in a real sense by Daniel in the prayer realm.
And so it is with more of our prayers than we realize. But the point is this: Daniel's praying was not about angels. And probably ours shouldn't be either. We should wrestle in prayer and fasting for the things that we know are God's will in our lives and our families and our church and our city and our world. But by and large we should probably leave it to God how he will use angels to get his work done. If God shows us more, we will use it. But the essence of the matter is not knowing the spirits but knowing God and praying in the power of Holy Spirit.
So let us be about it with all our might this year. May the Lord make us a people who pray like Daniel.