Comparison with Daniel 2
As we read Daniel 7, you may have thought to yourself that what we read here in this chapter is very similar to what we read in Daniel chapter 2. In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream; and in Daniel 7, Daniel had a dream. In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was about a large statue, composed of four different parts, which symbolised four earthly kingdoms; and in Daniel 7, Daniel’s dream was about four beasts which also symbolised four earthly kingdoms. In Daniel 2, the statue was smashed to the ground to represent how these earthly kingdoms were coming to nothing and would be replaced by a heavenly kingdom which will endure forever; and in Daniel 7, the earthly kingdoms again come to nothing and instead we have God’s everlasting kingdom, because we read here about the Ancient of Days, who is God the Almighty, who sits enthroned over all, and his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
And so, there are similarities between Daniel 7 and Daniel 2 and between Daniel’s dream and King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, because in both we have four earthly kingdoms which come to nothing; and we have God’s everlasting kingdom.
But Daniel’s dream in chapter 7 provides us with more detail, doesn’t it? For instance, in chapter 7 we read about the little horn who came up from the fourth beast and who will speak boastful words. And we also read in verse 13 about this mysterious figure who is described as ‘one like a son of man’ who received authority, glory and sovereign power. And we also read about the saints of God and how they will be oppressed for a time, but in the end they will triumph. So, there are similarities with chapter 2, but then there’s also more detail in chapter 7.
And what we need to understand, as we turn to this chapter, is that this chapter, just like chapter 2, is about the last days. Do you remember how Daniel referred to the last days in verse 28 of chapter 2. He said that God was showing Nebuchadnezzar what would happen ‘in days to come’ or ‘in the last days’. And ‘the last days’ is a kind of technical term in the Bible to refer to the whole period of time between the first coming and the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came at first as a baby, born in the stable in Bethlehem. He’s coming a second time, as a King and Judge to judge the living and the dead and to gather his people together. And the period in between those two events is called ‘the last days’. And in chapter 2 God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar what would happen in the last days. And he’s doing the same in this chapter too, because what he’s describing here in chapter 7 is the same as he described in chapter 2, but with more detail. And so, though Daniel lived so long ago — around two and a half thousand years ago — nevertheless he’s writing about our time. He’s writing about our time, because we’re living in the last days, in the time between the first and second coming of the Lord.
But it’s all very strange, isn’t it? It’s all very strange, because here we read about a lion with wings; and a leopard with wings and four heads; and a beast with iron teeth and ten horns; and there’s a little horn with eyes which is also able to speak. It’s all very strange, isn’t it? And that’s because — whereas chapters 1 to 6 were straightforward narrative, with Daniel describing what happened to him and to his friends in Babylon; and what this king did; and what that king did — whereas chapters 1 to 6 were straightforward narrative, Daniel 7 is what the Bible scholars call ‘apocalyptic literature’. You find the same kind of thing in the book of Revelation. In apocalyptic literature, God reveals heavenly secrets and secrets about his plans for the world. And he reveals these secrets by using dreams and visions. And these dreams and visions contain symbols and patterns and pictures and numbers by which God makes known these secret things. And, of course, the task of the interpreter is to try to work out what these symbols and patterns and pictures and numbers mean, because we’re not to take them literally. None of us will ever see on the earth a lion with wings; none of us will ever see on the earth a leopard with wings and four heads. None of us will ever see a horn with eyes that can speak. And so, we’re to try to interpret these things; we’re to try to de-code what these pictures symbolise. And the good news is that in Daniel 7 there’s an angel on hand to explain to Daniel and to us what most of these things mean.
And so, let’s turn to Daniel’s dream to see what we can learn about God’s plan for the last days in which we’re living.
And so in verse 1 we read that Daniel had this dream and received these visions in the first year of Belshazzar. We read about that king in chapter 5; he was one of the kings of Babylon who reigned after Nebuchadnezzar; but he was killed when the Medes and Persians invaded Babylon and overthrew the Babylonian Empire. Well, during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign, Daniel had this dream. And in the dream he saw that the four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea; and four beasts came up out of the sea. The commentators disagree over the significance of the sea, but one suggestion is that in the ancient world, the sea was regarded as a place of chaos and turmoil; and so it’s fitting that these terrifying beasts should come from that chaotic and dangerous place.
The first beast is like a lion, but it had the wings of an eagle. However, in his dream, Daniel saw that the wings of this beast were torn off; and it was lifted up from the earth and enabled to stand on two feet like a man. And the heart of a man was given to it. The second beast was like a bear, but it was raised up on one side. Some suggest this means it was ready to pounce on its enemies; others suggest it means the bear had a crooked or misshapen back; others suggest that it means one side of the bear was stronger and more prominent than the other. In its mouth there were three ribs which was all that was left of some victim it had eaten. And though it had obviously killed before, a voice commanded it to kill again and to eat it fill of flesh. The third beast was like a leopard, but it had four wings on its back and it also had four heads. A leopard is a fast animal, a leopard with wings is presumably even faster. And with its four heads it could look in all four directions at once. And it was given authority to rule. And then there’s the fourth beast which was terrifying and frightening and very powerful. Well, a lion with wings, a bear with ribs sticking out of its mouth, and a leopard with wings and four heads are terrifying too; so this fourth beast must have been especially terrifying. It had large iron teeth to crush and devour its victims and it trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from the others and it had ten horns. Horns in the Bible often symbolise strength, and so, this is an exceedingly powerful beast.
Interpretation of the Beasts
So, what do these beasts symbolise? What is the meaning of this dream? Well, if you look down to verse 15 you’ll read that Daniel was troubled in spirit by this dream; and the visions disturbed him. And in his dream he approached someone who was standing nearby and asked this person what the dream meant. Well, this was probably an angel, because the angels stand in the presence of the Lord, ready to do his bidding. And the angel explained to Daniel that the four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth.
Well, that’s all he says about them and he doesn’t in any way identify the kingdoms for us. And so, some of the commentators say that there’s no way to know the identity of the kingdoms. However, many other commentators suggest that the four kingdoms in Daniel 7 are the same as the four kingdoms in Daniel 2. In that case, the first beast symbolises Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire. And that makes sense, because the lion is regarded as the greatest of all animals; and the eagle is regarded as the greatest of all birds; and the Babylonian Empire was a great and mighty empire which ruled the ancient world. The way in which the lion was made to stand on two legs might refer to the way that Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned after that period of insanity when he lived in the fields like a cow. Or it may refer to how the Babylonian Empire became less fierce under its later kings; it became more humane, just like this lion became more human.
The second beast which looked like a bear symbolises the Medes and Persians. Just as the bear was raised up on one side, so the Persian side of the Medo-Persian Empire was stronger than the other side. The three ribs in its mouth represents the way this empire conquered its enemies. And the voice which commanded it to eat its fill of flesh represents the way the Lord — who governs all his creatures and all of their actions — enabled them to conquer the ancient world.
The third beast which looked like a leopard with wings symbolises the speedy rise to power of Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire. The four heads, looking in all directions, represents Alexander’s ambitions to conquer the world. And again, the Lord — who rules over all — gave him authority to rule over the nations.
And then the fourth beast symbolises the Roman Empire, which was terrifying and frightening and very powerful. Just like the fourth beast, Rome crushed and devoured its enemies and trampled them underfoot and subdued them with violence. As for the ten horns, the angel explained to Daniel in verse 24 that they symbolise ten kings who would come from it. Probably we’re not meant to take the number ten literally, but it refers to the surpassing power of the Roman Empire, because the number ten often refers to something that far surpasses everything else. For example, think back to Daniel 1:20 where we’re told that Daniel and his friends were ten times wiser than the others in the king’s court. Ten times wiser means their wisdom far surpassed the wisdom of the others. Well, these ten horns represents the surpassing power and might of the Roman Empire.
So, the four beasts Daniel saw in his dream stand for these four great kingdoms on the earth. But what about the little horn? Daniel tells us in verse 8 that a little horn came up from among the ten horns on the fourth beast. And this one little horn uprooted three of the others. And it had eyes; and it could speak; and it spoke boastful words.
What does this little horn signify? Well, the angel explained it to Daniel in verse 24. The little horn symbolises another king who will arise who will be different from the others and who will subdue three kings. And he will speak against the Most High God. Do you see that in verse 25? In the dream, Daniel heard him speak boastfully; and now we learn that he spoke boastfully against the Lord. And what else will he do? He will oppress — or wear out — the saints. In other words, he will oppress God’s people on the earth; and he’ll try to wear them out by a long drawn out campaign against the Lord’s people. And what else? He’ll try to change the set times and the laws. By ‘the set times’, it probably refers to the appointed times for worship. Remember how Daniel prayed to the Lord three times a day? And remember all the Old Testament religious festivals which the Lord appointed for his people to be celebrated at set times during the year? Well, this little horn will try to stop all that, which means he’ll try to stop the saints from worshipping the Lord. And he’ll try to change the laws. In other words, he’ll do what he can to undermine God’s law. And look at the end of verse 25: the saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.
Now, that’s a strange expression, isn’t it? But a time, times and half a time adds up to three and a half, because a time is one; and times is two; and half a time is a half. Well, some interpreters say this refers to three and a half years. Others say it refers simply to a brief period of time. But the most intriguing interpretation I’ve come across is that three and a half is half of seven; and seven in the Bible signifies fullness and completion. So, think about the fullness of history, the whole of history, stretching from the beginning of time to the end of time when Christ comes again. And for half of that time, this little horn will seek to oppress and wear out the Lord’s people. And in which half of the whole of human history will this take place? Will it take place during the first half or during the second half? Well, it will take place during the second half, won’t it? It will take place during that half of human history which began with the coming of Christ into the world the first time; and it will end when he returns to the judge the living and the dead. In other words, it will take place in the half we’re living in, which is the last days. And for the whole of that period — for the whole of the last days — this little horn will speak against the Most High; and he will wear out the saints; and he will try to stop the Lord’s people from worshipping the Lord; and he will try to undermine God’s word. While we wait for the Lord to return, believers will be handed over to him, to suffer at his hands.
And don’t we know this from experience? This little horn spoke against the Most High God; and every day we hear those who speak against the Lord and who say that he is not the real God and we should worship other gods; or they say that we should not believe in any God, because God does not exist. They say whoever believes in the Lord or worships him is a fool for believing in him and we need to wake up and accept that there’s no such thing as God. And the little horn oppressed the saints; and every day our brothers and sisters in Christ face persecution for their faith and the authorities are against them and they are beaten for their faith and arrested for their faith and even killed for their faith. And even in countries like our own, where we’re not persecuted for our faith, nevertheless we’re constantly under pressure to conform to the ways of an unbelieving world, because people will scoff at us and mock us and they will disregard us and they will put us under pressure to give up what we believe. And this little horn tries to prevent the Lord’s people from worshipping the Lord; and in many countries around the world, it’s against the law for believers to meet together for worship; and in our own country, the Lord’s Day is disregarded by so many. And this little horn tries to undermine the truth of God’s law. Well, instead of submitting to God’s law, the world has turned away from it and decided that it knows best. An unbelieving world reckons that it can decide for itself what is true and what is right and what is good. And so they have undermined God’s law and they call good what God calls evil; and they call evil what God calls good. And an unbelieving world despises us for still believing and for still teaching what God has said in his word.
And so, in the world they are those who speak boastfully against the Most High God. And, in the world believers are being oppressed and worn down by those who hate the church. And there are places where believers are forbidden from worshipping the Lord. And God’s word is so often undermined and ridiculed and disregarded and disobeyed. Even in the church, under pressure to conform to an unbelieving world, God’s people are tempted to tamper with the truth of his word and they teach what God has not said.
And so, we all know from experience what the angel was saying to Daniel. And so, who is this little horn? Who is this little horn who seeks to oppress the saints and who is so powerful? Well, some commentators think it’s a particular person in history. But it’s more likely that the Lord was warning Daniel that throughout these, the last days, the church will always face opposition and persecution and trouble and trials. In other words, the little horn symbolises every anti-Christian power which sets itself up against the Lord and his people. But, of course, behind all the opposition and persecution we face, there’s the Devil, who from the beginning has hated the Lord and his people and who is continually coming against us with his wicked schemes; and he will do all that he can either to lead believers astray or to crush us.
And so, this is the Lord’s warning to us and to all his people who are living in these, the last days. The world is a battlefield, not a playground; and Christians are soldiers who must always be on guard; and the Christian life is a battle. And so, every day we need to stand firm in the faith and remain faithful.
The Ancient of Days and Son of Man
But that’s not the whole story, is it? And that’s not all that Daniel’s dream contained. Remember King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2? The earthly kingdoms came to nothing, but Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that will endure for ever. And here in Daniel 7, the Lord revealed that despite the opposition we’ll face here on earth, the Lord God Almighty is on his throne and in the end he and his Son will have the victory; and his saints will reign with him for ever. And so, we don’t need to be afraid of the Devil and we don’t need to fear those anti-Christian forces that stand against the church, because our God reigns. And so, go back to verse 9 where Daniel saw that thrones were set in place. Who sits on these thrones? Well, first of all there’s the Ancient of Days, who is God Almighty. Now, the Lord is eternal, without beginning and end; he is not ancient. But by referring to him as the Ancient of Days, Daniel is conveying to us that he’s enduring. Other kingdoms come and go, but the Lord God Almighty endures forever. His clothing and hair are white like wool, which speaks to us of his holiness and purity. His throne was flaming with fire and a river of fire flowed from before him; this speaks to us of his holiness, but also of his judgment, for he will judge the nations with fire. His throne has wheels, which conveys the idea that he is always with his people, wherever they go; he’s not confined to one place. And look: he’s attended by thousands upon thousands, ten thousand times ten thousands are his servants, who are ready to do his bidding.
And this Great King sat down on his throne. And it’s a court, because he’s going to pass judgment, based on what is recorded in the books which are now opened. And, Daniel tells us in verse 11 that, as he watched, the fourth beast was slain; and its body was destroyed. And the authority of the other beasts was taken from them as well. Do you see? They will not last. They will not last, but they’re destined to come to nothing.
And look what happened next, because according to verse 13, Daniel saw one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. Though he had the appearance of a man, he was able to approach the Ancient of Days. And the Ancient of Days gave him authority and glory and sovereign power. In other words, God Almighty gave him the right to rule over all. And all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshipped him. So, who is the person who looks like a man, but who is able to receive the worship of the world? Well, it’s the Lord Jesus, isn’t it? The Son of Man was the title he used when referring to himself while he was on the earth. And the title comes from this chapter, where we read of the time when the Son of Man would come to his Father in heaven and would be installed as king over all. And, of course, Daniel was seeing into the future, wasn’t he? He was seeing into the future and to the time after the Lord’s death and resurrection and to the time when he ascended to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand and receive the right to rule over the world for the sake of his people.
And his kingdom — Daniel tells us in verse 14 — is an everlasting kingdom that will never pass away. His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. So, the Babylonian Empire came to nothing. The Medo-Persian Empire came to nothing. The Greek Empire came to nothing. Even the great Roman Empire came to nothing. But Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. and it will never be destroyed.
The Lord Jesus was installed as king over all after his death and resurrection and his ascension to heaven. So, right now he is king over all. But for now, his kingdom often seems small and weak and overwhelmed by enemies; and for now, many people refuse to believe in him or to bow before him or worship him. That’s how it is right now. Nevertheless in the end, in the end, all his enemies will be destroyed. And so, jump forward to verse 26, where Daniel saw the end of time and the day of judgment to come. And so, here’s the court in heaven; and now the power of the little horn is taken away from him and he will be completely destroyed. In other words, every anti-Christian power which sets itself up against the Lord and his people, and which is directed by the Devil, will be judged and condemned and destroyed. And look: the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under heaven will be given to whom? To the saints, the people of God Most High. Right now we’re oppressed, but the day is coming when we will reign.
And so, when we read in verse 9 that thrones were set in place, we’re to understand it to mean that there’s one throne for the Ancient of Days; and there’s one throne for the Son of Man, Jesus Christ; and then there’s one throne for each of God’s people, the saints.
This is the great hope God gives to us. We don’t deserve it, because we’re sinners who deserve to be sent away from the presence of the Lord. But God, who is gracious and who does not treat us as our sins deserve, but who pardons us for the sake of Christ who died for sinners, has promised to bring us into his presence where we will reign with him in the new heavens and the new earth. All his and our enemies will be destroyed, so that we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever. That’s the great hope he sets before us.
But in the meantime, our life here on earth, in these, the last days, will be marked by trouble and trials and suffering and sorrow, because there are so many anti-Christians forces, stirred up by the Devil, who will seek to oppress us and to wear us down. And so, we’re to stand firm and be faithful. But since our Saviour is already seated on his throne, we can trust in him for the help we need. And he will help us, just as he helped Daniel and his three friends in the first chapter when the resolved not to defile themselves in the king’s court. And he will help us, just as he helped Daniel’s three friends when they were ordered on pain of death to worship a false god. And he will help us, just as he helped Daniel when he was ordered on pain of death not to worship the true God.
The Lord helped them; and we can trust in him to help us too as we seek to stand firm and to remain faithful; and all the while we should be looking forward to the day when we will reign with him forever and forever in glory.