Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, as recorded in the second chapter and interpreted by Daniel. But now Daniel himself dreams and sees the same four empires the king had seen in his dreams; to Daniel they appear in another form. Daniel most likely had thought a great deal about the future events which King Nebuchadnezzar had seen and which he had been enabled to explain to him. All this may have caused him to have a dream of his own, and God gave him in visions of the night another look at those things which were to come hereafter. God spoke through other prophets to the people of Israel, but here all is revealed and spoken to Daniel personally, and he does not relay this directly to the nation.
Daniel is shown four visions in this chapter, three of which are called “night” visions (vv. 2, 7, 13). The first vision is concerning the first three beasts (vv. 2-6); the second vision is about the fourth beast (vv. 7, 8); the third vision tells of the judgment of God upon the nations (vv. 9-12); and the fourth vision introduces the reign of Christ as the Son of Man (vv. 13, 14). After these follows first a general interpretation of the first vision (vv. 15-18); then Daniel’s question concerning the fourth beast (vv. 19-22); and then the chapter closes with a detailed description of that same fourth beast (vv. 23-28).
Image And Beasts
Daniel sees beasts, while Nebuchadnezzar saw a great statue of a man. The Babylonian king saw the empires as parts of a big man; God presented them to Daniel as “wild beasts.” The image and the beasts are one and the same. God shows that when man has the power he abuses it and begins to act like a wild beast and (as was true with Nebuchadnezzar) he is apt to lose all reason. A beast is powerful, shows a certain sagacity in many ways, but he always looks down and has absolutely no conscience; with him might is right. A beast does not know God nor care to know Him. Such will be the future mighty potentate called the “beast” in Revelation 13:1, foreshadowed by this dreadful fourth beast of our chapter.
When Nebuchadnezzar saw the image in his dream Daniel told him in his explanation thereof that the first part of the image—the head of gold—represented Babylon, but he did not then identify the following three kingdoms which he mentioned. They are not identified here either, but in chapter 8:20, 21 we are told plainly that the second and third world empires were the Medo-Persian and the Grecian.
Daniel sees four great beasts rise up from the sea (v. 3). We have already seen that those four great empires depict the “times of the Gentiles,” so called by our Lord in Luke 21:24. They operate during the time when Israel has lost its identity as an independent people at their being carried into Babylon in 606 B.C. These empires are said to rise out of the “sea”; a term used so often in Scripture as typical of the restless nations of the world, as used in Revelation 17:15 where the waters are said to speak of “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” In verse 17 of our chapter these empires are said to rise out of the “earth”; this is no contradiction of verse 2. Their political status is seen in their rising out of the sea, their moral character, in rising out of the world; they are earthly and of this earth, with God left out. The fourth empire—the Roman—is said in Revelation 17:8 to rise out of the abyss; in other words, it is not only gentile, but it is Satanic and hellish in character.
The first government, of course, as the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, is the Babylonian empire. Gold there, a lion here; both have in them the idea of greatness and glory. A lion with eagle’s wings. Nebuchadnezzar is spoken of as a lion in Jeremiah 4:7, and as a great eagle with great wings in Ezekiel 17:3. Daniel “beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it” (v. 4). This seems to have direct allusion to the fact, as recorded in chapter 4, that Nebuchadnezzar had grown shaggy as eagles’ feathers, lived like a beast for seven years, and eventually had his sanity restored to him; as our verse says, “a man’s heart was given to him” (4:16, 33, 34).
The second beast was like a bear. It raised itself up on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between the teeth. They said unto it, “Arise, devour much flesh” (v. 5). We know that this refers to the Medo-Persian empire which followed that of Babylon. The bear is seen raising itself up on one side, telling us in this that the Persian power became the stronger of the two. The three ribs in its mouth speak of the conquest of three nations—Susiana, Lydia, and Asia Minor. Babylon lasted about 70 years when taken over by Darius (5:31). As the lion, picturing Babylon, was noted for its brute strength, so the bear, as Medo-Persia, was characterized by its capacity to hold on to that which was gained, just as a bear is great on hugging its victims.
Medo-Persia was in its turn overthrown by Greece under its famous leader Alexander the Great, who, like a leopard, was amazingly swift in his movements, which the “four wings of a fowl” also indicate. At his death at the early age of only 32 years his empire was divided among four of his generals, as we shall see again in chapter 8. The four heads on the leopard refer to this fourfold division of the Grecian empire. The stirring thing to the Christian is that the existence of this third empire and of the fourth that followed it (Rome) is here set forth in detail centuries before either of them existed. How it thrills us to know that this wondrous God is our God and Savior.
The Fourth Beast
And now Daniel, in a special vision, is shown this fourth beast, to us (and to Israel even more so) of much greater importance than the previous three. It is never mentioned by name in the book of Daniel, no doubt for several reasons. It did not exist when Daniel saw and wrote his vision. Rome, in its early stages a nation of little importance, did not begin its history until about 500 B.C. It did not appear as a nation to be reckoned with until about 200 B.C., when it broke the power of Carthage. The first mention of it in the Apocrypha is in 160 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes is said to have been a hostage in Rome. Another reason why Rome is probably not mentioned in the Old Testament is because Israel’s traditional enemies in those times were from the north and the east; Rome as a western power came to the fore in their later history. We’ll come to see much of this beast both in connection with Israel during the days of our Lord upon earth and also in connection with their still future experiences.
Daniel especially wanted to know more about this fourth beast, which stands for the Roman empire of the past and of the future. Here are his words:
Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet. And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.
I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom (vv. 19-22).
The prominent feature on this fourth beast is the “ten horns” and that other “little horn” before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots. Here is the divine interpretation of all this:
Thus he said, the fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him (vv. 23-27).
The ten horns are ten kings that shall arise; they, of course, correspond to the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, for we were told there that those feet and ten toes spoke of the fourth empire. There shall arise ten kings. Since it is quite evident that there has never been a Roman united government composed of ten nations, it is clear that this mighty confederacy of nations must still lie in the future. When this kingdom shall have come into existence one person will arise, called the “little horn” in our chapter, who shall subdue three kings and assume dictatorial powers. He will rule for three and a half years, for verse 25 says that he shall have mighty power for a time, times, and half a time. We turn to the New Testament and we find that very empire there as described in Daniel. Here is one reference to it:
And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations (Rev. 13:1-7).
Here, as in Daniel 7, the beast rises out of the sea, proving that he is a Gentile. Here, too, he opens his mouth in blasphemy against God, as does the “little horn” of Daniel 7:25. The beast of Revelation 13 makes war against the saints, as does the little horn of Daniel 7; both last for three and a half years. This repeated similarity leads to the inevitable conclusion that the little horn and the beast of Revelation 13 are identical. Daniel’s vision is a prophecy of stirring events still ahead of us.
There are ten horns (Dan. 7:7), and the interpretation revealed that these are ten kings (Dan. 7:7, 24). We are told exactly the same thing in Revelation, where we read that the horns were ten kings which even then had received no kingdom as yet (Rev. 17:12). There comes up another little horn in Daniel 7 who tears up three of the ten horns, leaving seven of them and making himself the eighth horn. We are told the same thing in Revelation 17, but instead of using the figure of horns there, it refers to the seven heads on the beast. In the past, when John wrote the book of Revelation, there were seven forms of government in ancient Rome, called “seven kings” (or kingdoms, for the one stands for the other) in Revelation 17:10. When John wrote, five of these were past, he says, one was then in power, and the seventh had not yet come, but would do so. The Roman power would be revived, for John says (Rev. 17:11) that there would be an “eighth” (there were only seven in the past, so that the eighth looks on to the future), and he is called the “beast.” Thus the eighth horn of Daniel 7 and the eighth king of Revelation 17:11 are one and the same. We have already seen the striking likeness in their character and conduct. As we have said, this person is a Gentile, for he rises out of the sea. This is said of him both here and in the book of Revelation. To say that the first beast of Revelation 13 is the Antichrist is untenable, for the Antichrist is a Jew and the beast of Revelation 13:1 is not. The little horn of Daniel 7:8 is the blaspheming, persecuting ruler of the future confederacy of western European nations, a coalition of ten countries united under the forceful leadership of this sinister Satan-inspired person called the “beast.” He isn’t a beast, but a forceful leader of men, but he will act as a beast acts, without regard to God or man.
It is this that our chapter in Daniel speaks of. This “horn” has eyes like a man, and a mouth speaking great things. The eyes suggest keen intelligence and sagacity; the ready mouth probably indicates that he will be a great leader, a spellbinder maybe somewhat after the style of Adolf Hitler, whose rantings some of us heard years ago. One special feature of his rule is the persecution of the saints (v. 21), and he overcomes them; the same thing is said of the beast in Revelation 13. The saints, of course, are the Jewish believers in the forthcoming great tribulation. The prophecies of Daniel have no relation whatever to the church or to the saints of this day. We read here (v. 21) that this horn (the beast) prevails against the saints, from man’s point of view. We get God’s point of view in Revelation 15:2 where we read of these very same Jewish saints and are told that they “had gotten the victory over the beast.” As we are told in Revelation 12:11, “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” We see (Rev. 15:2) those martyred saints in heaven, standing with their Lord on the sea of glass. Though slain for Christ’s sake, they are not seen as the victims, but as the victors. The believer always has the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.
This future “superman,” called here the “little horn” and in Revelation 13 and 17 the “beast,” will not last long. He dominates and persecutes for only three and a half years—the period of the forthcoming great tribulation—and then we read, “I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame” (v. 11; also Rev. 19:20).
The Lord Jesus Christ, spoken of as the “Ancient of days,” for He is the Eternal God, sits now on the throne. His white hair as wool and His raiment white as snow identify Him for us as the Son of God as seen in Revelation 1:13, 14. Millions of angels minister to Him; billions stand before Him to be judged for their sins (vv. 9-11). The beast is slain, but the others have their lives prolonged for a season (v. 12), for many passages in the Old Testament and some in the New Testament tell us that during the reign of Christ nations shall still continue to function; “they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:26).
Finally, Daniel sees the kingdom given into the hands of the Son of Man as He comes in the clouds of heaven. Matthew 24:30 refers to this coming when the dominion shall be His forevermore, when all nations, peoples, and languages shall serve Him and shall praise His name. We, His saints, shall be with Him in that glorious day of His triumph and power. Praise His name! Our blessed Lord shall share His glory with His own, for “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (v. 27). These latter are His earthly saints, the redeemed of Israel; they shall share in Christ’s earthly glory, as we shall in His heavenly. The chapter closes by saying that Daniel’s cogitations much troubled him. No wonder, for all this was so new and strange to him, and only the merest outline of all this was given to him. Today, with the increased light cast upon these things in the New Testament, these prophecies are much clearer. As we meditate upon them, we thrill to the wisdom, power, and glory of God, and we praise Him for the matchless grace poured out upon us through the merits of His beloved Son, and for the honors that await Him when the day of the Lord arrives.