Daniel’s Vision of Four Beasts

For more study see commentary on Daniel 7.

The book of Daniel is broken into two main sections. The first half, chapters 1-6 are a chronological and historical record of the life of Daniel and the events surrounding him. Chapters 7-12 take place in the midst of the earlier recorded history. They delve into the visions and dreams of Daniel. While we find them confusing today, we would do well to remember that Daniel was greatly disturbed by many of the images that he saw as well.

Daniel 7 is loaded with a wealth of information that it can’t be covered in depth in just one sermon. We will only hit the highlights of the information and leave some explanations for later as many of the themes and characters will show up again in later chapters. The second half of this chapter is the interpretation of Daniel’s vision. We’ll be incorporating the interpretation as we go along and will not actually read these verses.

Before we jump into the verses, I’ll point out in advance that there are obvious parallels between Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 and Daniel’s vision here. They tell the same story but from a completely different perspective. Daniel 2 is history from man’s perspective while Daniel 7 tells history from the perspective of man.

Daniel 7:1

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.

We begin by noting the year in which Daniel is given this dream. It is the first year of the reign of King Belshazzar, 553 BC. Daniel is a man of around 70 at this point. The Babylonian empire has not yet fallen but Daniel would see a part of this prophecy play out in just a few short years.

Vs 2-6

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.
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.

These beasts are representative of the same four empires of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. While the human perspective is to see these empires as of precious metal and regal in form, God sees these empires as beastly in nature.

The first empire is, again, the Babylonian empire. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream it was represented by a head of gold. Here it is represented by a lion with the wings of an eagle. These two animals are king of the land and king of the air. They represent the power and swiftness of the Babylonian empire. This strange creature – obviously not real – was used in Babylonian artwork to represent the empire.

The first beast has its wings torn from it and it rises to walk on two feet like a man. This is indicative of Nebuchadnezzar’s salvation. While God viewed him as a beast for some time – and his madness actually caused him to act like a beast – he eventually submitted to God and the Lord looked upon him as more than a beast; a saved man.

The second beast is the Medo-Persian empire. Before it was the silver chest and arms of the statue, now it is represented by a great lumbering bear. This empire was not swift like the lion nor did it have the majesty of the Babylonian empire. Instead it was a hulking brute. The Medo-Persians conquered through use of sheer numbers, at one time possessing an army of 2.5 million. The fact that one side is raised up is indicative that one half of the empire would be greater than the other, in this case, the Persians.

The three ribs in the bear’s mouth represent three powers that were consumed by the Medo-Persian Empire: Lydia in Asia Minor in 546 BC, Babylon in 539 BC, and Egypt in 525 BC.
The third empire is the Greek Empire. It is the bronze belly and thighs in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the four headed leopard in Daniel’s vision. Just like the lion, there are wings on its back, representing swiftness but it does not hold the majesty of an eagle. Under the command of Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire conquered the world in just ten years.

At just the age of 33, Alexander the Great was dead. The great empire that he had created was divided up by his four generals, represented by the four heads of the leopard. Lysimachus ruled Thrace and Bithynia; Cassander ruled Macedonia and Greece; Seleucus ruled Syria, Babylonia and eastward to India; and Ptolemy, ruled Egypt, Palestine and Arabia Petraea.

Daniel 7:7

“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.

Daniel spends little time thinking about the first three beasts. As is mentioned in the interpretation later, Daniel’s focus is on the fourth beast. This fourth beast is unlike anything that Daniel has seen. It is not represented by any specific kind of animal but just a terrifying beast. Likewise, the empire it represents will be unlike anything the world has seen. This beast is depicted in Revelation 13:2 as having characteristics of the three former beasts.

“The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.”

The fourth beast is the Roman Empire. Like the statue, it is represented with iron, in this case iron teeth. Likewise, there are ten horns on this beast, just as the statue had ten toes. This prophecy has been partially fulfilled but not yet completely. The Roman Empire devoured nations like a ravenous beast and displayed the strength of iron.

What has not yet come yet are the ten toes or ten horns. This kingdom will be the kingdom of the antichrist but it won’t begin this way. It will just be a confederation of ten kingdoms to start.

As I mentioned when discussing the ten toes, there are a number of interpretations as to what this ten nation confederacy will be. Many point to the European Union which occupies most of Europe and a large part of the territory that the Roman Empire possessed as a possible fulfillment of this prophecy. If this is to be a literal fulfillment, which I believe it will be, the European Union does not yet align with this prophecy however. This doesn’t mean that it won’t just that it currently does not. The Roman Empire included northern Africa (have you noticed that there’s a lot going on in that region right now?) as well as parts further east than the EU currently covers.

Whatever actual nations the Revived Roman Empire consists of, it will give rise to the antichrist. Just as the nearly universal language and incredible transportation system of the ancient Roman Empire allowed for the rapid spread of Christianity, the Revived Roman Empire will be ideally suited for the antichrist’s rise to power.

Vs 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.

The little horn represents the antichrist. He arises to power through the Revived Roman Empire. The word uprooted can have two very different connotations and we don’t know which will happen. One can be a gradual takeover where no one notices it happening until it happens. The other is a dramatic event where three horns are plucked from their position. Think of it as losing your teeth. There are two ways that it can happen. One is for the tooth beneath it to gradually push its way up until the first tooth is simply pushed out. The other is two get hit in the face and jar the tooth right out. The word uprooted could be fulfilled either way.

This little horn is going to be very intelligent and very arrogant. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 tells gives us a description of the little horn:

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

We will discuss the antichrist more in later chapters as we see further descriptions of him as he given several names.

Vs 9-10

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.

As Daniel watches, the end of time comes. It is Judgment Day. Here we see the most vivid picture of God in all of scripture. This is not a worshipful picture like we see some places, especially in Revelation. Instead this is a courtroom setting. God Almighty is seated on His throne and as the books are opened, it is time to judge.

Vs 11-12

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.)

A few other places in scripture we are given an image of heaven or of God. Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, and John are all humbled by the presence of God. But not so for the antichrist. He will continue his blaspheming until the very end when he is cast into the lake of fire.  We often encounter people who are just so set in their ways that it seems as though nothing will change them and turn them to God. We saw in the instance of Nebuchadnezzar that God can humble anyone. But there are still many who will go down fighting until the end. Even when presented with undeniable evidence of the power of God, they will exalt their own way.

But in the end it doesn’t matter. For all of the power that was exercised on earth, it doesn’t compare to the might of God. This isn’t a battle. This is just a sentence that is handed down and carried out.

As Christians we can be guilty of two things in regard to the devil. The first is to deny his power. Satan is very real and he wants to destroy Christians more than anything. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

On the other hand, we must not give Satan too much credit. Yes, there is a battle taking place but the outcome of the war has long been decided. Satan has been defeated but he wants to take as many as he can to hell with him.

Vs 13-14

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.

Standing before Daniel was the Son of Man, Jesus. This is not an angel but the second person of the Trinity. Consider that God grants Him His power, He is worshipped, and He has an everlasting kingdom. These are all attributes that only God possesses.

The Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite title for himself. He never directly referred to Himself as the Son of God nor the Son of David which are two other titles that are attributed to Jesus. However, He refers to Himself as the Son of Man 81 times in the gospels. He was obviously drawing the parallel to this passage and others in Daniel.

In Mark 14:61-64 we see that the Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus claimed when he referred to Himself as the Son of Man.

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.

So what do we learn from this chapter? Like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, we are reminded that God is in control. In contrast, while we see ourselves as high and mighty people, God sees us as untamed beasts in need of salvation.

Once again we see the detail with which God revealed the future to Daniel. We know that prophecy has been fulfilled to this date and that it will be fulfilled in the future just as accurately. There will be a revival of the Roman Empire but we should be careful not to speculate as to how it will come about.

The antichrist will use the Revived Roman Empire to rise to power but it will be for a short time. The sentence has already been pronounced and evil does not win. Instead, Jesus, the Son of Man receives all of the honor and power and glory. We should eagerly await His kingdom while we continue to live for Him in this earthly one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *