5. Four Beasts and the Son of Man (Daniel 7)


Audio (49:08)

Rembrandt, 'Daniel's Vision of Four Beasts' (1655) in Menasseh ben Israel's Piedra Gloriosa (1655).
Rembrandt, 'Daniel's Vision of Four Beasts' (1655) in Menasseh ben Israel's Piedra Gloriosa (1655).

Up until now, we have seen primarily "court stories" about Daniel and his friends concerning their quest to be faithful to God while serving in the court of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors.

But now we shift from what has been primarily narrative to a series of visions that Daniel has seen. Just as the court stories in chapters 1 through 6 appeared in chronological order, so do the visions. In the first six chapters we have seen that God is in control of the evil forces of the day. In the final chapters we see visions of the ultimate liberation of God's people by the God who is in control of all history. The accounts of God being with Daniel in the earlier chapters establish his credentials to prophecy of the future.

Many believe that Daniel 7 is the most important chapter in the Book of Daniel. Walvoord maintains that Daniel 7 "provides the most comprehensive and detailed prophecy of future events to be found anywhere in the Old Testament."[173] It prophesies the direction of four major empires, culminating in the coming of Christ and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.

I am afraid that this is a long lesson, since I am trying to give adequate treatment to  this important chapter of Daniel. Please bear with me. I'll talk about its relevance to us disciples at the end of the lesson.

Apocalyptic

These visions in chapters 7-12, and Daniel's interpretation of dreams in chapters 2 and 4, belong to a the genre of prophecy termed "apocalyptic." The word comes from the Greek apokalypsis, "revelation, making fully known," literally, "take the cover off," from apo, "from" + kaluptō, "to cover."

Daniel seems to be the one of the earliest apocalypses, followed by a whole genre of Jewish apocalyptic literature written between 200 BC and 100 AD in imitation of Daniel.[174] Apocalyptic literature is full of symbols that are seen in dreams and visions. For example, think of the rich symbolism in the Book of Revelation. Another characteristic is a deterministic view -- that history must run its course, but the end is predetermined by God. The end of history will be a violent in-breaking by God to establish his kingdom. Other examples of apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament include Zechariah and parts of Ezekiel.[175]

Longman writes:

"Apocalyptic is a metaphor-rich genre. In this regard it is like poetry. Metaphors and similes teach by analogy. They throw light on difficult concepts and things by relating them to something we know from common experience. As such, images speak truly and accurately, but not precisely. We often do not know where the analogy stops."[176]

The symbols are designed to communicate not just facts, but also emotional feelings. It is important not to over-interpret these apocalyptic images. The pages of history are littered with hundreds of dogmatic interpretations of Daniel and the Book of Revelation that, in hindsight, look overworked and bizarre. Let's be careful not to push too far in our zeal to understand fully and make everything "fit."

The Four Great Beasts (7:1-8)

With that introduction, let's consider Daniel's vision in chapter 7.

"In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream." (7:1)

This vision is dated to the time when Belshazzar began his co-regency with his father Nabonidus, perhaps 553 BC, or a bit later.

Daniel begins to tell his vision of beasts that arise from a turbulent sea. I think the best way to approach this passage is first an overview of Daniel's vision in verses 2-8. We'll spend some time considering Daniel's vision of the heavenly courtroom with the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. Then we'll examine the vision of the four beasts in detail with the interpretation of each beast in the latter part of the lesson.

"2 Daniel said: 'In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3  Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea." (7:2-3)

For the Hebrews, the sea was a place of chaos, evil, and danger. We might think of the Mediterranean as an inland sea, but it can be violent and deadly, as the Apostle Paul found on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27). The image of beasts coming out of the sea would be perceived by Daniel's readers as arising from dangerous evil.

"4  The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.

5  And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, 'Get up and eat your fill of flesh!'

6 After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.

7  After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast -- terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

8  While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully." (7:4-8)

I conclude that these four beasts represent the empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, respectively (though this conclusion, is hotly disputed by some). We'll consider the rationale for this when we consider the interpretation in 7:16-27.

The Ancient of Days (7:9-10)

Daniel has seen the vicious beasts rising from the evil sea and a "little horn" that uproots others. Now he sees a vision of God in his heavenly courtroom. God is in control, and far above the beasts and powers of the earth and sea.

"9  As I looked, thrones were set in place,
 and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
10  A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened." (7:9-10)

The expression "Ancient of Days[177]" (7:9, 13, 22) draws upon the ideas of advanced age, white hair to represent the wisdom of age, as well as the purity and holiness represented by the white garments (Matthew 17:2; 1 Timothy 6:16). The Ancient of Days, of course, is the Eternal God, Yahweh, the Most High God, whom Jesus called "Father."

"Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God." (Psalm 90:2)

We're given the scene of the awesome court of the Almighty God, the Ancient of Days. His throne shoots forth flames and the wheels by which it is moved are also blazing. Consuming fire is a theme of God's holiness from the time of His appearance to Moses and the people of God in the wilderness (Exodus 3:2; 24:17; Hebrews 12:29). His throne is the place of awesome justice. Flowing from him is a "river of fire."

"Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes on every side." (Psalm 97:3)

His court of advisors and the servants who wait on him number in the millions (Revelation 5:11). This is no earthly court. It is the court of the Heavenly King. His chief advisors are seated on the thrones that have been placed, and "the books were opened" for judgment to take place according to what is written concerning the kingdoms represented by the beasts. They literally "sit in judgment" (7:10).

The books are the records of what people have done for good or ill. We see this scene reflected in Revelation also:

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." (Revelation 20:12)

The presidents and prime ministers and princes of world empires may think that they are accountable to no one, but in Daniel 7 we glimpse the awesome judgment of these seemingly invincible powers.

The Beast Is Slain and Thrown into the Fire (7:11-12)

With the perspective of the heavenly court of judgment before him, now Daniel watches while the "little horn" continues to speak boastfully.

"11  Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12  (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)" (7:11-12)

Finally, the fourth beast is destroyed and its body thrown into the blazing fire. This can't help but remind us of verses in Revelation concerning the Antichrist and the False Prophet:

"The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies...." (Revelation 13:5)

"But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet.... The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur." (Revelation 19:20)

Q1. (Daniel 7:1-2) What is the relationship of the Ancient of Days (God) to the various beastly nations that rage against each other and against him and his people? What happens to these beast-nations? Why is it sometimes so difficult to believe that God is in charge of the world we live in?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1575-q1-god-is-in-control/

The Heavenly Son of Man (7:13-14)

Now we come to one of the most important passages in the Book of Daniel for Christians, since it is the source of Jesus' own self-title as "Son of Man" and underlies Jesus understanding of the Kingdom of God, one of the major themes of his ministry. This Son of Man who reigns over the Kingdom of God is also the climax of Daniel's vision of the destruction of the beast-nation.

"13  In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."(Daniel 7:13-14)

Let's consider each aspect of this important vision.

One Like a Son of Man (7:13a)

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man...." (7:13a)

It is clear in the Old Testament that the term "son of man" is a Hebraic way of saying "human being." It occurs 107 times in the Hebrew Bible, mostly in the Book of Ezekiel as God's way of addressing Ezekiel as a man. For example:

"[God] said to me, 'Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.'" (Ezekiel 2:1)

We see it in Psalms.

"What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:4)

It is also used this way in the Book of Daniel, as God addresses Daniel:

"'Son of man,' he said to me, 'understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.'" (8:17)

However, Jesus uses it in a different sense. He commonly referred to himself with the title of "the Son of Man," and only rarely as the "Son of God."[178] Why is this? I see two main reasons:

  1. Accurate. Son of Man, drawn directly from the imagery of Daniel 7:13-14 is an accurate description of who he really was and is.
  2. Ambiguous. "Son of Man" is ambiguous enough that his enemies aren't able to seize on the title as blasphemy. Son of Man wasn't laden with religious or political baggage. If, on the other hand, he had openly called himself Messiah or Son of God, his ministry would have been cut short by his enemies.

Though "son of man" may seem ambiguous, as we'll see in 7:13-14, it is actually a title full of divinity and glory and power. In 7:13, Daniel sees one who looks human ("like a son of man") but is actually the divine heir of the Kingdom of God. By taking the title "Son of Man," Jesus is saying, "I am the Son of Man spoken of in Daniel's prophecy!" And he confirms this in his trial before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:64).

Coming with the Clouds of Heaven (7:13b)

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven." (7:13b)

After the judgment of the beast-kingdoms comes one before the Ancient of Days who appears to be human, but is "coming with the clouds." As Longman puts it, "he is riding the cloud chariot, which is the prerogative of God alone."[179] See, for example, the following verses:

"Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds --
his name is the LORD --
and rejoice before him." (Psalm 68:4)

He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind." (Psalm 104:3b)

"See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud
and is coming to Egypt." (Isaiah 19:1a)

No one else in the Bible but Yahweh himself "comes with the clouds." This is an earmark of divinity!

Later, Jesus mentions "coming on the clouds" as an earmark of his own Second Coming, nearly always using the title "Son of Man," which ties it to Daniel's prophecy in 7:13-14.

"They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30b; Mark 13:26; cf. Luke 21:27)

"You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62)

"Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him...." (Revelation 1:7a)

"I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one 'like a son of man' with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand." (Revelation 14:14a)

Approached the Ancient of Days (7:13c)

"He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence." (7:13c)

As we saw in 7:9, "Ancient of Days" carries the ideas of eternity, with the wisdom of the ages.[180] This is clearly Yahweh the King, seated on a flaming throne, waited on in his court by myriad attendants, books open, judgment rendered. He is seated in all his glory, much like Isaiah saw him:

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3  And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'" (Isaiah 6:1-3)

The Son of Man appears before the Most High God in all his glory and power.

Given Authority, Glory, and Sovereign power (7:14a)

"He was given authority[181], glory[182] and sovereign power.[183]" (7:14a)

The awesome Yahweh, Most High God, the holder of all authority, glory, and sovereign power gives these very prerogatives of divinity to this "one like a son of man." Just before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...." (Matthew 28:18b-19a)

As Jesus said to his disciples in the upper room after his resurrection:

"As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (John 20:21)

The Son of Man who has been given all authority to accomplish his Father's mission, now speaks to us with this authority and sends us to complete the work.

All Peoples Worshiped Him (7:14b)

"All peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him." (7:14b)

He is to be the object of worship of everyone on earth. "Worshiped" (NIV), "should serve" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is pelaḥ, "pay reverence to, serve."[184] From the original meaning of plowing a field came the concept here of working hard at worship or service to a deity.[185] Only a deity is worthy of this kind of worship. The implication is that this "one like a son of man" is divine.

An Everlasting, Indestructible Kingdom (7:14c)

 "His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (7:14c)

The context of Daniel 7 is that kingdoms of men rise and fall; their end is destruction. However, the dominion[186] or kingdom[187] given to "one like a son of man" is different. This sentence emphasizes the eternal nature of the kingdom in three ways.

  1. Everlasting.[188] This kingdom will last in perpetuity, for eternity.
  2. Will not pass away.[189] Other kingdoms pass from sight and vanish, but not this one.
  3. Will never be destroyed.[190] Other kingdoms, even great empires, meet destruction before the next great empire. But this kingdom, the final kingdom, is the great rock that destroys them all and will never itself be destroyed.

  This is the kingdom spoken of in Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

"In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." (2:44)

How Jesus Spoke of the Son of Man

After studying 7:13-14, it's useful to see how Jesus saw himself as Son of Man.

1. The Son of Man came from heaven.

 "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven -- the Son of Man." (John 3:12-13)

"Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" (John 6:62)

2. The Son of Man is judge of all.

"And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man." (John 5:27)

3. The Son of Man is to be glorified.

"The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified." (John 12:23)

"Now is the Son of man glorified...." (John 13:31)

"When [Judas] was gone, Jesus said, 'Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.'" (John 13:31-32)

4. The Son of Man is to be lifted up -- both in glory and as the object of faith on the cross, which is his ultimate glory.

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)

"When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me." (John 8:28)

5. The Son of Man comes to save as an atoning sacrifice for sin (Isaiah 53).

"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

6. The Son of Man returns in glory.

"For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels...." (Matthew 16:27)

"They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30b)

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory." (Matthew 25:31)

Because Jesus is both the heavenly Son of Man and the divine Son of God, he has all authority.

"... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)

Hallelujah!

Q2. (Daniel 7:13-14) How do these verses describe "one like a son of man"? What makes us think he is a divine figure? What authority and glory does he receive? Why do you think Jesus called himself "the Son of Man"?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1576-q2-the-son-of-man/

A Summary of the Vision (7:15-18)

We've put a lot of focus on verses 13 and 14, and rightly so, but now it's time to return to the interpretation of the vision -- a vision that troubled and disturbed Daniel greatly.

"15  I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16  I approached one of those standing there and asked him the true meaning of all this. So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things:
17  The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. 18  But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever -- yes, for ever and ever." (7:15-18)

Daniel has been given some clues to interpretation in this brief summary of the vision. The four beasts in 7:4-8 are four earthly kingdoms, probably what we would call world empires -- a large territory made up of many kingdoms, ruled over by an emperor or king of kings. They oppress the people of God, but the final Kingdom will not be controlled by evil rulers, but by God's holy people. I'll discuss the phrase "the saints of the Most High" below in verses 21-22 and 26-27, where the angel spells this out more completely.

Observe that in Daniel 7, the four kingdoms aren't identified with specific nations, only described. In the same way, in chapter 2, Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's vision of a great statue, the parts are described, but not identified with specific nations. With some clues given in Daniel 8.20-21, it is possible to identify the empires as follows (though some dispute this).

  1. Lion with wings of an eagle (7:4) = Neo-Babylon Empire.
  2. Bear with three ribs in its mouth (7:5) = Medo-Persian Empire.
  3. Leopard with Wings of a Bird (7:6) = Greek Empires.
  4. The Beast with Iron Teeth, Bronze Claws, and Ten Horns = Roman Empire (7:4-8).

I know that it may confuse you, but now I want to go back to verses 4-8, which earlier we skipped over rather quickly, and look at them more closely, particularly since in verses 19-25, the angel provides greater detail about the fourth empire, which I take to be the Roman Empire.

1. The Lion with Wings of an Eagle (7:4) -- Babylon

"The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it." (7:4)

Striding Lion (604--562 BC), glazed brick from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, excavated at wall of Processional Way, Babylon. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Striding Lion (604--562 BC), glazed brick from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, excavated at wall of Processional Way, Babylon. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Vittore_Carpaccio, 'The Lion of St. Mark' (1516), tempera on canvas, 130 x 368 cm, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. A winged lion is the symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist.
Vittore_Carpaccio, 'The Lion of St. Mark' (1516), tempera on canvas, 130 x 368 cm, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. A winged lion is the symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist.

The first kingdom is represented by a lion that has the wings of an eagle. A lion was a dangerous beast that lived throughout the ancient Near East. Babylon especially was decorated with lions on the glazed bricks on the famous Ishtar Gate and the Processional Street leading to it.

The wings of an eagle add the idea of swiftness to the image. Near Eastern languages didn't differentiate between eagles (birds of prey) and vultures (birds that feed on carrion). But the soaring wings of these mighty birds captured the imagination. Especially in Assyria and Babylon, archaeologists have found statues of winged lions (or sometimes bulls) placed as protectors at the entrances of palaces and important public buildings.

Probably, the winged lion refers to the Babylonian empire, which was still strong when Daniel was given this vision about 550 BC. Just as the head of gold in the figure in Nebuchadnezzar's dream represented Babylon, so this first beast probably represents Babylon as well.

The lion's wings being torn off may refer to Nebuchadnezzar's insanity, while receiving a human heart may refer to his humanitarian rule after his insanity, though that is just speculation.[191]

2. Bear with Three Ribs in Its Mouth (7:5) -- Medo-Persia

"And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, 'Get up and eat your fill of flesh!'" (7:5)

The second beast looked like a bear. Like the lion, the bear was regarded as a particularly ferocious predator in ancient times. The bear probably represents the Medo-Persian Empire (otherwise known as the Achaemenid Empire or First Persian Empire) that replaced the Neo-Babylonian Empire when Babylon fell in 539 BC.[192] The Medo-Persian Empire existed for another 200 years until it fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC. (See Appendix 2. The Medo-Persian Empire.)

That the bear was devouring an animal shows its ferocity. The three bones may refer to Medo-Persia's three major conquests -- Lydia (546 BC), Babylon (539 BC), and Egypt (525 BC), though again, this is speculation.[193]

3. Leopard with Wings of a Bird (7:6) -- Greece

"After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule." (7:6)

In ancient times the leopard was found in Africa, Asia Minor, Palestine, and south Asia. It is named among other the ferocious animals of the Bible (Hosea 13:7; Isaiah 11:6; Jeremiah 5:6), known for its spots (Jeremiah 13:23), and especially for its speed (Habakkuk 1:3). The wings add additional swiftness to an already extremely fast cat.

If the Neo-Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires are the first two beasts, then this would represent the next empire to rise, the Greek or Hellenistic Empire of Alexander the Great -- and later the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kings. The four wings may refer to the four corners of the earth, signifying world domination.[194]

The four heads probably refer to the four generals who succeeded Alexander the Great and divided up the empire -- (1) Ptolemy I Soter, (2) Seleucus I Nicator, (3) Lysimachus, and (4) Antigonus I Monophthalmus (the "One-Eyed"). We'll read more about Alexander and the division of his empire in Lesson 6A(Daniel 8).

4. The Beast with Iron Teeth, Bronze Claws, and Ten Horns (7:4-8) -- Rome

Daniel's vision gives special emphasis to the fourth beast, both in the description of the vision and its interpretation. Here again is the original vision in verses 7-8:

"7 After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast --terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

8  While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully." (Daniel 7:7-8)

Here is the interpretation in verses 19-20:

"19  ... Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws -- the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20  I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell -- the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully." (7:19-20)

The basic type of animal represented by the fourth beast isn't given. However, its deadly weapons are described. This beast is considered the "most terrifying" of all.

  1. Large iron teeth would crush and devour its victims. The remaining carcasses were trampled under its feet (7:19).
  2. Bronze claws would rip and tear at its victims until they were lacerated, bleeding, and ready to kill with its teeth.
  3. Ten horns. Rams and bulls fight for their mates with massive horns. So the horn became a symbol of strength and military prowess throughout the ancient Near East. It often represents pride and honor. The "up-lifted horn" towards God (Psalm 75:4-5) represents overweening, rebellious pride. We can imagine an animal with two horns, but not ten. But these ten horns represent ten kings (7:24).

The Little Horn (7:8, 20)

"There before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully." (7:8)

"I also wanted to know ... about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell -- the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully." (7:19-20)

The term "little horn" refers to the size of the horn at the beginning. But later it grew in power. There are two popular views of who the "little horn" (7:8) and the "more imposing" horn (7:20) represent.

  1. Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek king who oppressed the Jewish People in 168-165 BC.[195] You can read more about him in Lesson 6A (Daniel 8). This view is held primarily by scholars who believe that Daniel's prophecies were only pseudo-prophecies, written in the Maccabean period (168-165 BC), after the kings they describe had already reigned and who see the Greek Empire as the fourth beast, not the third.
  2. The Antichrist. It seems to me that the fourth kingdom must be Rome, which superseded the Greek kingdoms by the second century BC. In this case, the ten horns are ten kings or kingdoms that arise from Rome. Roman domination will be followed by the Antichrist, as spelled out in several New Testament passages that are given below.[196] It seems likely that this fourth beast with ten horns (7:24) corresponds to the fourth part of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which had feet of a mixture of iron and clay, and which, we presume, had ten toes (2:42).

Is the Fourth Kingdom Greece or Rome?

Before we continue I want to consider which kingdom is the fourth kingdom: Greece or Rome? Thus far in this lesson I have assumed the interpretation that Rome is the fourth kingdom. Now let's examine the basis for this interpretation. Here are the two most common positions.

 

Greece is 4th Kingdom Rome is the 4th Kingdom
1. Babylon 1. Babylon
2. Media 2. Medo-Persia
3. Persia 3. Greece
4. Greece 4. Rome

Frankly, there isn't enough information in either the vision or its interpretation to absolutely affix a certain beast to a certain kingdom. Therefore, the identity of the kingdoms is based on assumptions made by the interpreter based on other criteria. I'll outline what I believe these are, though this is purely my own judgment.

Assumptions of interpreters who see Greece as the 4th Kingdom

There may be more assumptions, but these are primary.

  1. The prophecies in Daniel were written after the fact during the Maccabean period from about 168 to 165 BC as a kind of pseudo-prophecy, with the purpose of encouraging God's people in a time of very difficult persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek king.
  2. Babylon is probably the first beast-kingdom, since the vision was purported to have been given while Babylon was still dominant.
  3. The Book of Daniel is primarily about Antiochus Epiphanes, thus the "little horn" must refer to him.
  4. Media was a great empire on its own before it became Medo-Persia. (See Appendix 2. Medo-Persia.) Thus it should be considered as one of the beasts, not lumped together with Persia.
  5. The writer of Daniel was mistaken about God intervening to destroy the Seleucid Kingdom and set up the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, these interpreters conclude that the fourth kingdom must be Greece, from which Antiochus Epiphanes sprang.

Assumptions of Interpreters who see Rome as the 4th Kingdom

There are other reasons for this identification, but these assumptions are primary.

  1. The prophecies in Daniel were written during Daniel's lifetime in the sixth century as indicated in the text. They are actual prophecies of the future.
  2. Babylon is probably the first beast-kingdom, since the vision was given while Babylon was still dominant, and is the first empire in the four-empire interpretation of 2:36-37.
  3. The four-kingdom scheme in both chapters 2 and 7 end with the intervention of the Kingdom of God, so they probably speak of the same kingdoms.
  4. The Book of Daniel certainly speaks of Antiochus Epiphanes, for example in 8:9-12 and 11:21-35. However, this doesn't limit Daniel from speaking about later oppressors of God's people.
  5. In Daniel's vision of a ram and a goat in chapter 8, Medo-Persia is clearly identified as the two-horned ram (8:20). Since Medo-Persia is considered as one major empire there, it is likely that Medo-Persia should be considered together as a single beast rather than separately in Daniel's vision of the beasts in chapter 7. And the writer is clear that the Medo-Persian Empire succeeded the Babylonian empire (6:8, 12, 15).
  6. We know from history that the Greek Empires are ultimately conquered by the Roman Empire. Antiochus III is defeated in the Battle of Thermopylae (191 BC) and  in the Battle of Magnesia (190 BC), culminating in the Battle of Corinth (146 BC), after which Greece comes under direct Roman rule. Syria is finally annexed as a Roman province in 64 BC. By the second century BC, Rome has superseded Greece as the dominant world power. We also know that Roman power is seen in Daniel's prophecy in 11:18 and 11:30.

I believe that the case for Rome as the fourth kingdom is substantially stronger than the case for Greece as the fourth kingdom, since it is derived from the Book of Daniel itself and doesn't rely on assumptions that the Book of Daniel is a pseudo-prophecy.

The Horn Wages War against the Saints (7:21-22)

Whatever the "little horn" refers to, the four kingdoms represent evil kingdoms. Though the "little horn" is powerful, he is ultimately defeated by the intervention of God, who will set up his own kingdom which shall have no end.

"21  As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them,
22  until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom." (7:21-22)

"The saints of the Most High" needs interpretation. Elsewhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in Daniel, the phrase refers to angelic beings (4:13; 8:13). Some see the meaning in verses 18, 21, 22, and 25 as angelic beings also.

However, I take "the saints" in 18, 21, 22, and 25 to refer to the same "holy people" as indicated in 7:27 -- where it clearly refers to people -- "the saints, the people of the Most High" (NIV) or, literally, "the people of the saints of the Most High" (ESV, KJV). You see this also in 8:24 -- "the holy people" (NIV), "the people of the holy ones" (NRSV), "the people who are the saints" (ESV), "the holy people" (KJV).

 The saints receive the Kingdom because their King reigns, and they rule and reign with him in his administration (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:4).

The Antichrist (7:23-25)

Because of Daniel's particular interest, the angel continues.

"23  He gave me this explanation: 'The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24  The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25  He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.'" (7:23-25)

When we get to 11:36-39, we'll speak more of "another king," whom I understand as the Antichrist. This lesson is already long, so we'll wait until Lesson 9 to discuss the Antichrist. However, observe what we learn about the Antichrist figure here. He will:

  1. Subdue three kings (7:24b).
  2. Speak against the Most High (7:25a).
  3. Try to change the set times and the laws (7:25b).
  4. The saints will be under his domination for "time, times, and half a time" (7:25c).

There is a sense in which this can be seen as partially fulfilled under Antiochus Epiphanes, but as we'll see in Lesson 9, this Antichrist figure is larger than any human, and speaks of events long after Antioch Epiphanes was dead and buried.

Q3. (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27) Three times the angel assures Daniel that "the saints of the Most High" will ultimately receive the kingdom and possess it forever (Daniel 7:18, 22, and 27). In what circumstances is this truth most precious to God's people? Though there may have been partial fulfillments, when do you expect the ultimate fulfillment?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1577-q3-receiving-the-kingdom/

The Everlasting Kingdom (7:26-28)

The angel now concludes the vision by declaring the final victory of the Kingdom of God.

"26  'But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.' 28  This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself." (7:26-28)

"The court will sit" (7:26) brings our minds back to the heavenly court that had been seated for judgment in 7:10-14. There we were told of the judgment of the "little horn."

"11  Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12  (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)" (7:11-12)

There will come a time when the pomp and pride of man's kingdoms will be forever gone. Kings and dictators will oppress God's people at various points in history. At the time of the End this persecution will become extremely intense. Then the Seventh Angel will blow the final trumpet and declare for all to hear:

"The kingdom of the world
has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)

Lessons for Disciples

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed at this point, by the visions and prophecies. So it's important for us to look at the big picture -- not all the details -- to draw some lessons from Daniel 7 for modern-day disciples. Daniel's relevance may not be fully apparent until you live in a time when God's people suffer great persecution. Then, Daniel's words are a tremendous encouragement. We learn that:

  1. God will judge the nations. Though nations rage, God is clearly in control of events and will judge the nations. Throughout Scripture we see the same message: God will judge the nations (Psalm 2; 82:8; 96:10; 110:6; Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:12; Acts 17:31; Revelation 19:11; etc.).
  2. The kingdom of God will triumph in the End. God will finally deliver his people from persecution.

"The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever -- yes, for ever and ever." (7:17-18)

"The saints will be handed over to [the Antichrist] for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever." (7:25b-26)

  1. Jesus is the Son of Man to whom all power is given (7:13-14).

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was written by J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Christian. The hobbit Bilbo has been given the Ring of Power to destroy and thus save Middle Earth from the Dark Lord Sauron. In a moment of fear, Frodo complains to Gandalf the Grey, a good wizard: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened." Gandalf replies gently, "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." 

Daniel: Faithful Discipleship in a Foreign Land, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in book formats: paperback, Kindle, PDF

Though we may be frightened by world events that roil around us, like Daniel was by what he saw in the visions, God will strengthen us and enable us to go through what we must. We will endure. The end of evil is certain. Jesus promised, "The one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Prayer

Father, thank you for the assurance we have of your sovereignty in the earth. Forgive us when we doubt you. Forgive us for our fear. Give us courage to live for you in the times appointed for us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened." (Daniel 7:9-10, NIV)

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14, NIV)

"The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever -- yes, for ever and ever." (Daniel 7:17-18, NIV)

"As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom." (Daniel 7:21-22, NIV)

"He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. 'But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever." (Daniel 7:25-26, NIV)

"Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him." (Daniel 7:27, NIV)

End Notes

[173] Walvoord, Daniel, p. 145.

[174] Some of the Jewish apocalyptic writings include: First and Second Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Psalms of Solomon, Assumption of Moses, Fourth Ezra, and the Apocalypse of Baruch.

[175] George Eldon Ladd, "Apocalyptic Literature," ISBE 1:151-160; also George Eldon Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1964), chapter 3, later published under the title, The Presence of the Future.

[176] Longman, Daniel, p. 163.

[177] "Ancient" is the adjective ʿattîq, "advanced, aged" (BDB). Derivatives of the Hebrew root include the ideas of value and eminence, "old, aged" (Holladay, p. 417). "Days" is yôm, "day" (TWOT #2762).

[178] Nearly always, he is called "Son of God" only by others, but in his trial before the Sanhedrin he acknowledges that he is indeed the Son of God (Luke 22:70).

[179] Longman, Daniel, in loc. He notes that in literature from Ugarit. Baal, the chief deity and primary divine warrior of that culture, is often called the "Rider on the Clouds."

[180] "Ancient" is the adjective ʿattîq, "advanced, aged" (BDB). Derivatives of the Hebrew root include the ideas of value and eminence, "old, aged" (Holladay, p. 417). "Days" is yôm, "day" (TWOT #2762).

[181] "Authority" (NIV), "dominion" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is sholṭān, "dominion, sovereignty," usually of God. From shelēṭ, "have power, rule" (BDB), "dominion, lordship" (Holladay, p. 423).

[182] "Glory" is yeqār, "honor," from the root "to be precious" (BDB).

[183] "Sovereign power" (NIV), "kingship" (NRSV), "kingdom" (ESV, KJV) is malkû, "royalty, kingship, kingly authority" (BDB), "royalty, reign, kingdom" (TWOT #2929c), "kingship, sovereignty," similar to "kingdom, realm" (Holladay, p. 411).

[184] Pelaḥ, BDB. We saw this verb previously in 3:12, 14, 17, 18 regarding worshipping the golden image and 6:16, 20, the God that Daniel serves continually.

[185] Charles D. Isbell, TWOT #2940. "Serve (God)" (Holladay, p. 417).

[186] "Dominion" is sholṭān, which we saw in 7:13, "dominion, sovereignty," usually of God. From shelēṭ, "have power, rule" (BDB), "dominion, lordship" (Holladay, p. 423).

[187] "Kingdom" is malkû, which we saw in verse 13 and 14a: "royalty, reign, kingdom" (BDB), "kingship, sovereignty," similar to "kingdom, realm" (Holladay, p. 411).

[188] "Everlasting" is ʿālam, "perpetuity, antiquity" (BDB), "remote time, eternity" (Holladay, p. 416).

[189] "Pass away" is ʿădâʾ, "pass away" (BDB), "go away, vanish" (Holladay, p. 415).

[190] "Destroyed" is the Hithpael stem of ḥabal, "be destroyed," see also 2:44 and 6:26 (BDB), "be destroyed, perish" (Holladay, p. 405).

[191] Miller, Daniel, in loc.

[192] The interpreters who see the whole focus of Daniel on Antiochus Epiphanes (a Greek Seleucid king), separate the Medo-Persian Empire into the Median Empire and the Persian Empire, as beasts two and three, with the Greek empire as the fourth beast. However, in Daniel's vision in 8:20, the Medo-Persian Empire is depicted by a single beast, a two-horned ram. (For more, see Appendix 2. The Medo-Persian Empire.)

[193] Miller, Daniel, in loc.

[194] Miller, Daniel, in loc.

[195] Longman notes that a strong case can be made (based especially on the clear meaning of Daniel 8) that the fourth beast is Greece and the ten horns are the kings that followed Alexander, with the climactic horn being associated with the insidious figure of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who oppressed God's faithful people in the middle of the second century BC. Proponents of this view cite the period of time (time, times, and half a time) as roughly equal to the number of years that Antiochus wreaked havoc with the religion of the Jewish people in 168-165 BC.

[196] Some of those who believe the reference is to the future time of the Antichrist prefer to speak of three and a half years of tribulation for God's people at the time of the second coming of Christ.


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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