Daniel’s vision of the four beasts
As promised, Daniel 7 brings us back into the thick of prophecy with Daniel’s vision. Remember that outline prophecy in Daniel 2? Well, now we’re going to go over most of it again, but with more detail so we can confirm our interpretation. But also some more pieces to the historical puzzle so we can get more detail about the movements closer to end times.
Daniel 7 is about a dream Daniel had during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign (we talked about the end of Belshazzar two posts ago, so this comes prior to that Chronologically) (Daniel 7:1).
Daniel sees four beasts coming up out of the great sea (Daniel 7:2). Remember what these symbols represent in prophecy? Water represents people, multitudes, nations and tongues (Revelation 17:15) and beasts represent kingdoms, nations, powers (Daniel 7:7, 23). So, Daniel sees four kingdoms rising out of a heavily populated area. Now, this must remind Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream back in Daniel 2
Then Daniel begins to describe the beasts (Daniel 7:3). The first was like a lion with eagle’s wings. It’s wings are removed, it’s stands on two feet and has a man’s heart (Daniel 7:4). Babylon is famous for it’s lions. They had them depicted on walls and statues all over the city. It was like their mascot. It’s no wonder God choose a lion to represent them. In fact, there are depictions of Marduk (one of Babylonia’s primary gods) shown as a lion with wings and a man’s head. So, Daniel sees this beast, and watches as it’s wings are plucked out. I suspect this was in reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion. For 30 years, God worked to change Nebuchadnezzar, to remove the worship of Marduk from him, finally, during Nebuchadnezzar’s 7 year insanity, Nebuchadnezzar comes around. God gives him back the heart of a man, and the wings representing Marduk are removed.
Next Daniel sees a bear coming out of the water. It’s lopsided and has three ribs in it’s mouth and Daniel hears a voice saying “Arise, devour much flesh” (Daniel 7:5). Going by the interpretation in Daniel 2, which is Medo-Persia. Now, Medo-Persia was a different sort of kingdom in that it represented two distinct people: the Medes and the Persians. One larger than the other, giving it that lop-sided quality. Remember how Medo-Persia conquered Babylon? Well, in the same campaign, they also conquered Egypt and Lydia. I believe these are the three ribs that it has in it’s mouth. In one large bite they conquered a huge piece of the known world.
Next Daniel sees a leopard with four wings and four heads, and it was given dominion (Daniel 7:6). This represents Greece according to Daniel 2. And it’s quite descriptive of the Greek takeover. Alexander the great is known for his whirlwind conquering of the “entire world”, so the leopard, a fast animal, and then four wings, to represent speed, is apt. So, why four heads? Well, Alexander the Great died fairly young at the age of 33. And his four generals took over the ruling of the Grecian empire. Thus, four heads to this beast.
And now we get to the real reason for the prophecy, to talk about the fourth beast. The rest was really just a setup, so we could fix our reference points.
Daniel sees a fourth beast, which isn’t like anything he’s seen before, this is something new. He describes it as dreadful, terrible, and exceedingly strong with iron teeth. It devoured, broke things into pieces, and trampled what was left under foot, and it had ten horns (Daniel 7:7). From this, we can match it to the last kingdom in Daniel, the roman empire and the barbarian tribes. It has iron teeth, just as the fourth was made of iron, and ten horns, just as we saw the statue have ten toes representing the ten barbarian tribes that became of Rome. But where Daniel 2 jumps ahead to Christ’s return, in this dream we get more details of the intervening years.
As Daniel is thinking about the horns (probably remembering the 10 toes), another horn pops up. One that wasn’t there before. So, this isn’t one of the ten barbarian tribes. This new horn uproots three other horns. So, that gives us a timeline to start with. We know the Roman Empire split into ten parts in 476 A.D. so, we’re looking for a new power rising after that. And we know that only 7 of the ten barbarian tribes exist today, so it had to have happened sometime between 476 A.D. and now. Now, we know from History that three of the barbarian tribes were destroyed by 538 A.D.: the Heruli, Vandals and Ostrogoths. So, sometime between 476 A.D. and 538 A.D. this new power arises with enough might to cause the destruction of three kingdoms.
Daniel goes on to describe this beast. It says that it had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking pompous words. (Daniel 7:8). We’re going to come back to this new power shortly. For now let’s continue with Daniel. His vision then jumps ahead to Christ’s return, to the defeat over the fourth beast (Daniel 7:11) This fourth beast is going to be the one that will stick around until Christ’s return. That’s a long time. Remember, it starts somewhere in the 476 A.D. to 538 A.D. time and still exists today, and will until Christ returns. Now many powers in the world can claim that. He also discusses a small bit of the final war between Christ’s return and Judgement Day, but we’ll get to that in more detail in Revelation. Then Daniel sees the final kingdom, God’s Kingdom, lasting forever (Daniel 7:13-14).
Daniel is very upset over this dream. In fact, he’s upset while he’s till dreaming it. So, he asks for the interpretation (Daniel 7:15-16). Whomever is with him in the dream (who is never described) tells him that the four beasts are four kingdoms and that God will eventually setup His kingdom which will last forever (Daniel 7:17-18). But Daniel already knows that, so he asks about this fourth kingdom, since that’s the one with all the new information about it (Daniel 7:19-20). And so, he’s shown a little more about that new power. He sees it making war against God’s people, and winning until Judgment Day (Daniel 7:21-22). Then Daniel’s guide goes on to clarify:
He says the fourth beast is a fourth kingdom on earth, that it will be different than all the other kingdoms. That it would cover the entire world and subjugate it. That the ten horns are ten kings, and that there will be yet another one, an eleventh but it will be different than all the others, and that it would subdue three of the other kings. That it would speak pompous words against God, that it would persecute those who follow God. That it would seek to changes times and law, and that it would rule for a time, times and half a time (Daniel 7:23-26).
What is this time, times and half a time? This part of prophecy comes up a few times in the Bible.
- Time, times and half a time in Daniel 7
- Time, times and half a time in Revelation 12:14
- 42 months in Revelation 13:5
- 1260 days in Revelation 12:6
Luckily prophecy tends to reiterate itself quite a bit so we can be sure of our interpretations. This last one is the key really. We know that in prophecy a day is a year (Ezekiel 4:6), and we’ll get further confirmation of this in later posts. So, we have 1260 years total that we’re talking about, and the other numbers have to agree with this. Well, 42 months * 30 days in the Jewish month = 1260 days, so that’s good. This time, times and half a time becomes a little problematic though.
Some Bible state that it’s a year, 2 years and and half a year, and I think their interpretation is correct (though I’d prefer they use the actual language of “time, times and half a time). So, that gives us 3.5 prophetic years. And that’s where we get into trouble. What year do we use? In our culture, we have 365 days per year, which gives us 1277.5 days. That’s too many. We’re shooting for 1260. The Jewish calendar has 355 days which would give us 1242 days in total. That’s too few. Of course, we could do the math backwards 1260/3.5 = 360. It’s a nice even number. It also happens to be the average between the solar year (365) and the lunar year (355), which is well…pretty coincidental. Some use the passage Genesis 1:14 to argue that God gave us both the sun and the moon to calculate time, and so we need to account for both. Others say that the Jewish month is given as 30 days and 30 * 12 = 360 days total, so that’s why it’s there.
I honestly don’t know why 360 was chosen. But, the math checks out. I’m just glad we have that 1260 day guideline to go by or I’m sure there would be more arguments about this.
So, we have a 1260 year prophecy here in which this power, this little horn is to be able to rule without serious opposition.
From Daniel we have these characteristics so far:
- Eyes of a man (Daniel 7:8)
- Mouth speaking pompous things against God (Daniel 7:8, 25)
- Made war against the saints (Daniel 7:21, 25)
- Would try to change times and laws (Daniel 7:25)
- Would be given free reign for 1260 days (Daniel 7:25)
Luckily, we have a bit more in Revelation 13 about this same power, this time it’s depicted as a beast on it’s own.
- The dragon gives him his power (Revelation 13:2)
- One of it’s heads would be mortally wounded (Revelation 13:3)
- But it would be healed and all the world would marvel (Revelation 13:3)
- The world would worship this beast (Revelation 13:4)
- He would speak great things and blasphemies, against God, His name, His tabernacle and those who dwell in heaven (Revelation 13:5-6)
- He would continue for those 42 months (1260 years) (Revelation 13:5)
- Makes war with the saints (Revelation 13:7)
- Whole world would worship him (Revelation 13:8)
- The ruler’s number would equal 666 (Revelation 13:18)
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, eventually it too will be judged and destroyed (Daniel 7:26).
Now this dream troubled Daniel greatly (Daniel 7:28) because he recognized that God’s people would be deceived and would eventually follow after this beast, and this scared him. It’s a warning for us, but thankfully we have a loving God who loves us enough to rebuke us and show us where we’ve gone wrong (Revelation 3:19).
Next post we’re going to identify this power. Ready for it?