Let’s dive right into our text this morning… Daniel 7:1, “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon (we’re going back in time), Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts.”
If you were to divide the book of Daniel into two simple sections, the first six chapters are largely narrative while the last six focus primarily on the prophetic. Beginning with Daniel 7 and continuing to the end of the book, we will find the record of several prophetic “dreams and visions” Daniel had during the twilight years of his life.
As he’ll do with each of these prophecies, Daniel opens this chapter telling us this particular “dream and vision” was given to him during “the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon.”
Nebuchadnezzar has been dead for years. The throne has been hacky-sacked around before finally landing with Nabonidus — who quickly made his son Belshazzar co-regent over the city. Regarding the timing, we know this prophecy occurs between Daniel 4 and 5.
Since we’re transitioning into what will be several weeks of complex prophecy, you need to know there is a huge difference between a prophecy and a prediction. A prediction concerning future events is a formulated, educated guess based upon the accumulation of data and details. In contrast, a prophecy is when the Most High God intentionally peels back the veil of time in order to reveal what IS going to happen in human history.
It’s amazing to consider that roughly 25% of the Bible is prophetic in nature — which is intentional. Not only does the fulfillment of prophecy deepen our faith in the divine origins of the Bible, but it helps us trust God with our present circumstances. If you’re confident God holds tomorrow in His hands, you’ll believe He has no problem taking care of today!
Again, prophecy is not a prediction as to what MAY happen, but God revealing to us what WILL happen in future affairs. And while that’s incredible, because prophecy is God enabling man to peer into the future, the challenge centers on the articulation of what the prophet actually saw with his own two eyes. You see human language strains to describe the supernatural — especially when the revelation manifests through “dreams and visions.”
When it comes to fulfilled prophecy, making sense of the various components of a particular dream or vision is obviously easier — hindsight is much clearer than foresight. The difficulty ends up being the sections of prophetic Scripture yet to be fulfilled! For example, I listened to three pastors teach Daniel 7 and all three had a different interpretation.
With this in mind, I want to establish a few ground rules for how we’ll handle prophecy in the coming weeks. First, if the prophecy has a clear fulfillment in history, we’ll have no problems lining up the details. On the flip-side, if the prophecy doesn’t have an obvious fulfillment, it likely hasn’t been fulfilled — which will complicate and convolute our path forward.
In these situations, any conclusions reached need to be (1) dictated by the text itself, and (2) expositionally consistent with the way certain images play out in other prophetic passages. Never forget prophecy is God’s way of revealing the future to us, not concealing it from us. While there are mysteries unknown, the generalities are knowable! Amazingly, God wants His people to know the future so that we’re prepared not blindsided.
In a lot of ways, the New Testament will help us cipher and make sense of the Old. This morning we will see this in action as this prophecy recorded in Daniel 7 is referenced 58 times in the New Testament — mostly in the Book of Revelation. You see the overlap of specific images will prove helpful in rounding out our understanding of what they mean.
In the end, when it comes to future prophecy, humility is critical and being overly dogmatic foolish. Though I’m not going to expound on interpretations I disagree with, I will do my best to refrain from using the ambiguity of a text to make definitive statements. As your Pastor, when I do speculate as to the meaning of something, I will be clear it’s my opinion.
While there are a lot of different ways you can approach a prophetic text, this morning I want to read the chapter in its entirety before we wade into the weeds. Daniel 7:2, “Daniel spoke, saying, ‘I saw in my vision by night (dreams occur when you’re sleeping, visions happen when you’re awake), and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.
The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. They said thus to it: 'Arise, devour much flesh!' After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue (literally, the rest) with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.
I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words (great and powerful words).
Daniel 7:9, “I watched till thrones were put in place (to be cast down), and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool (white signifies purity, holiness, and righteousness). His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him (fire speaks of judgment). A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him (this was the largest conceivable number available — the multitude was innumerable). The court was seated, and the books were opened.
I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for the rest of the beasts (the lion, bear, and leopard), they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:15, “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. (I should add this “vision” was more than Daniel seeing something play out in front of him. His ability to “come near one of those who stood by” and interact with this individual implies he’s immersed in a scene happening all around him and most notably is not the only one present! Most people think Daniel is talking with an angel. The problem is he doesn’t specify when he will in other visions. I believe he’s talking with the Apostle John.)
So he (the one who stood by) told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: ‘Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.’
Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows.
I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.
Thus he said (further explanation of the things Daniel saw): ‘The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High (to harass, cause friction, burn against), and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time (3.5 years).
But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’
This is the end of the account. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance changed; but I kept the matter in my heart.”
Let’s begin with what we know for sure about this vision… In response to what he’d seen, beginning with verse 16, Daniel asks “one of those who stood by” two questions: (1) What was “the truth of all this” — basically, what’s the point of the entire vision, and (2) what was “the truth about the fourth beast, the ten horns” and specifically “the horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words.” Obviously, these things are important.
Concerning this first question, verse 17 is clear “those great beasts, which are four, are four kings (or kingdoms — same Aramaic word for both) which arise out of the earth.” Verse 18 then explains the entire purpose of the vision was to illustrate the inevitable downfall of these four earthly kingdoms and ultimate victory of “the saints of the Most High” who will “receive the kingdom and possess that kingdom forever, even forever and ever.”
Traditionally, scholars view this vision as a repeating of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 concerning the succession of world empires. They’ll claim the notable difference between the two is the kingdom’s of man presented as a towering “image of gold, silver, bronze, and iron” are now described from God’s perspective as wild beasts.
To this point, you will hear it said the “lion” represents Babylon. The “bear” the Medo-Persian Empire. The “leopard” a reference to Alexander the Great and the rapid spread of Grecian dominance. And this “fourth beast” who had “huge iron teeth” the Roman Empire. For the record, I completely disagree with this interpretation of Daniel’s vision.
The first issue with this traditional understanding is verse 17 places all four kingdoms in the future! In the Aramaic, this sentence “those great beasts are four kingdoms which arise out of the earth” would be better translated as “four kingdoms which are destined to arise out of the earth.” The KJV translates this as “which shall arise out of the earth.”
The future tense being used tells us these four kingdoms in reference do not presently exist when Daniel received the vision. This instantly excludes Babylon from being the first. Though she was characterized by a lion, there are no depictions of a lion with wings.
Furthermore, while you can play with the imagery to get the bear and leopard to fit within the Persian and Greek Empires, the description we’re provided of Rome being governed by a collection of “ten kings” has zero historical justification. The only way you can make any argument at all for the Roman Empire would be to completely spiritualize the text thereby eliminating any type of literal meaning. The evidence simply does not support this position.
The second challenge centers on the specific way Daniel describes what he’s seeing in this vision. In verse 7 he says concerning this “fourth beast” that it was “different from all that were before it.” In the original Aramaic, this word “before it” means in the presence of and is never used to denote succession or chronological sequence. The simple fact is Daniel isn’t seeing nor is he describing a progression of world empires like in chapter 2.
With this in mind, look again at what Daniel sees… Verse 2, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.” In his vision Daniel observers “the Great Sea” — which was a reference to all the peoples and nations of the world — being divinely thrown into chaos from this “stirring up” caused by “the four winds of heaven.”
Then, in the midst of this global mayhem, he witnesses these “four great beasts” arise at the same time “from the sea.” Daniel is not describing four kingdoms coming one after the other, but altogether. And yet, while these different kingdoms are contemporaries of each another, the first three (“lion, bear, and leopard”) coming “before” the “fourth beast” which was “dreadful, terrible, exceedingly strong, and different” implies subservience.
Regarding this “fourth beast” more powerful than the others in that it “had huge iron teeth and nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the rest with its feet,” Daniel also notices “it had ten horns.” Note: “Horns” signified power and authority.
As Daniel watched, he then sees “another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots (this “little horn” assumes the place of three leaving seven). And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, a mouth speaking pompous words,” and “whose appearance was greater than his fellows.” There is no question the “little horn” is a man who ascends to incredible power.
Pertaining to the interpretation of these things, we don’t need to speculate as the meaning is provided by the text itself… Beginning in verse 23, Daniel is told, “The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom.” What we have being described is a global superpower aligned with these three additional nations governed by ten kings.
“And another (king) shall rise after them (the ten); he (this man) shall be different from the first ones” by “subduing three kings.” This global leader will “speak pompous words, blaspheme the Most High, shall persecute the saints (verse 21 says he’ll “make war against the saints and prevail against them”), and shall intend to change times and law.” The vision is also clear his power will last “a time and times and half a time” or specifically 3.5 years.
Following this defined period of time, Daniel observes this horrific persecution of God’s people would be allowed “until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” At this point “the court shall be seated, thrones cast down, a fiery stream issued, the books opened.”
We’re told the little horn’s “dominion was taken away,” he was “consumed and destroyed, the beast slain (this fourth kingdom came to an end), its body given to the burning flame.” Concerning the other three beasts typified by the “lion, bear, and leopard” we’re told they “had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.” In the end, not every kingdom on earth was destroyed. Some continued on…
In conjuncture with this incredible judgment, Daniel said he saw, “One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! To Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” We’re also told (and again this is the point of the vision) “the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the saints of the Most High to serve and obey Him.”
Before I explain the future fulfillment of this prophecy, let’s also define a few additional components of this vision we can derive from the New Testament. As to the identity of the “Ancient of Days whose garment was white as snow and the hair of His head like pure wool” — who’s “throne was a fiery flame” and before whom “a thousand thousands ministered; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him” we know this to be Jesus!
Revelation 1:12, “John turned to see the voice that spoke. And having turned I saw One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire... When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
I should add Daniel is the only Old Testament prophet to refer to the coming Messiah using this title the “Son of Man.” What makes this so interesting is “Son of Man” ends up being the most common name Jesus used for Himself! 81 times He uses this term!
Mark 14:60-64, “And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, ‘Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?’ But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.”
Regarding the identity of this “little horn” and this “fourth beast,” the New Testament again provides some clarity. In Revelation 13 John writes, “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.
The dragon (Revelation 12 identifies the dragon as Satan) gave him his power, his throne, and great authority... And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months (3.5 years). Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.”
Not only is John’s vision and Daniel’s nearly identical, but it confirms the fact this “little horn” in Daniel 7 is this final world leader often referred to in Scripture as the Antichrist. Though these men receive the same vision of the future some 600 years apart since this is all taking place outside of time and space, why couldn’t Daniel’s vision of the future include the Apostle John standing there watching the same future event take place?
So… What event is Daniel and John seeing play out in the future? At some point, four kingdoms will rise to power in a world (“The Great Sea”) stirred into chaos by the “four winds of heaven” — which can signify an act of God. I believe it’s the Rapture of the church.
Of these four kingdoms, the one rising from the ashes of the Roman Empire will prove to be the most dominant and powerful. Not only do we derive this from the reference of this beast having “iron teeth,” but back in Daniel 2 we’re told this final kingdom in question would be made up of ten “toes of iron mixed partly with clay.”
While this European State will be initially governed by “ten kings,” according to the vision, it won’t take long for the Antichrist (this “little horn”) to take power for himself. In fact, John tells us his power will be given to him by Satan — the dragon. Not only do the three kingdoms of the “lion, bear, and leopard” submit to him, but it would seem he consolidates power in his own kingdom by assuming the position of three of these ten kings.
With an iron first this Antichrist (the “little horn”) will dominate the world stage. He’ll speak “pompous words,” blaspheme the “Most High,” and during the final 3.5 years of his reign he will engage in global persecution of the “saints of God!” In the end, all of this will come to an abrupt end when Jesus returns to earth, destroys this final kingdom, casting the Antichrist into the Lake of Fire. In turn, Jesus will establish His kingdom on the earth where the “saints of God” will rule and reign with Him.
While in Revelation John sees this future kingdom as one “beast” that “was like a leopard, feet like the feet of a bear, and a mouth like the mouth of a lion” Daniel is more specific that this kingdom will be comprised of an alliance of four separate powers. So who’s the “lion, bear, and leopard?” Admittedly, this is where we’re only left to speculation.
In verse 4 we read how “the first” of these kingdoms “was like a lion” with “eagle’s wings.” Daniel adds, “I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.”
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that a “lion” with “eagle’s wings” might very well be an alliance forged between Great Britain (lion) and America (eagle). It’s interesting to note that just last year in an unexpected twist, Britain officially broke from the European Union.
While we’re not given any specifics, if this is what Daniel is seeing, according to the text, at some point America will no longer be an international player. Imagine how Britain would be weakened if “its wings were plucked off” forcing her to “stand on” her own “two feet.”
In verse 5 Daniel says, “And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’” Historically, Russia has always been known as the bear. It could be the “three ribs in its mouth” spoke of a collection of nations under Russian influence.
Either way, the bear ends up being used to wage war causing incredible human casualties. I believe Ezekiel 38 and 39 provide us further insight into the Russian role in end times affairs.
In verse 6 we read of the third… “After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.” Without a doubt, a four-winged leopard that has four heads is the trippiest of the three beasts. This kingdom was fast and agile. In truth, it’s impossible to say who the “leopard” represents. My guess would be a coalition of four Asian powers.
Before we wrap things up with a little application, I do want to address the persecution of the “saints of the Most High” by the Antichrist during these final 3.5 years of what is known as a seven-year Tribulational Period. From Daniel’s perspective, writing from Babylon 500 years before Christ, who are these “saints?” This is such an important question…
Writing to the Colossian church the Apostle Paul closes his first chapter by making a critical observation about the Old Testament writers. He says, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Paul is saying the one component of God’s plan for the world — what he calls “the mystery hidden from ages and from generations” that none of the Old Testament authors or prophets had the ability to see or know — was the rise of the Gentile Church in place of the Nation of Israel! What this tells us is that everything written by Daniel would have been Hebrew-centric. As such “the saints of the Most High” would have been Jewish followers of Jesus — not Gentile Christians. We’ll unpack this idea more in the coming weeks.
Let me close out our time with two important points of application… Look again at verse 27, “Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”
While it’s natural and even appropriate for Christians to long for the Kingdom of God (in Acts 1 it was a pressing question for the early believers — “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom”), I want you to notice how the kingdom will come according to Daniel’s vision… It “shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High!”
Understand… The world we all long to see established on this earth — a world of justice, equity and fairness — a world of love, joy and equality — a world where people live together in harmony and peace is not something the Church can create, build, make happen, or achieve through social initiatives or getting more and more people to covert…
You see, when you move beyond the doom and gloom of this passage, Daniel’s vision of the future tells us how the Kingdom of God will come to this earth. Jesus must return, crush the enemy, and establish a Kingdom He will “give to all the people and saints.” Fundamentally, the Kingdom of God is a gift Jesus gives to humanity!
It’s not an accident that in Luke 11:2 when the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray He begins, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.” The remedy for this world is not a kingdom the Church attempts to make on earth, but one coming from heaven!
Lastly, I want you to consider Daniel’s reaction to knowing the future… In response to what he sees, in verse 15 we read, “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.” Then, in verse 28, after gaining the interpretation of what he’d seen, Daniel writes, “This is the end of the account. As for me, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance changed; but I kept the matter in my heart.”
Daniel saw the future of our planet — what WILL happen — and it had an immediate effect on him! He was “grieved in his spirit.” His “thoughts greatly troubled him.” His “countenance” was so disturbed it “changed.” Daniel’s heart broke knowing what’s coming.
Friend, if you really believe you know the future, it will have a profound and immediate impact on how you live your life in the present. For example… If I told you God had revealed to me tomorrow's Georgia lotto numbers, it’s really easy to know if you actually believe me or just think I’m crazy… If you’re convinced you’ll hit the jackpot, you’ll leave the church, swing by a gas station, and buy one ticket with those specific numbers.
Understand, Daniel basically sees two kingdoms colliding in the future: the kingdom of man led by a replacement christ, and the Kingdom of God led by Jesus Christ. Daniel knew one would end in destruction and judgment, while the other would ascend to glory and dominion forever! Don’t forget… This was not a prediction of what MAY happen, but God revealing to all of humanity through Daniel’s vision what WILL take place.
In light of these things… If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to choose to be on the right side of history. If you’ve already made this choice and are a saint of the Most High, take courage knowing that in spite of what happens between now and the end (persecution) you will be on the right side of history. And finally, if you know someone presently on the wrong side of history, love them enough to share their future destiny. You know their future!
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