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Daniel’s Night Vision (1)

The night vision of Daniel 7 gives a grand sweep of world history from the kingdom of Babylon to the final judgment, a period of 2,500 years and counting. This remarkable vision includes four terrible beasts (or world kingdoms), the ten horns that arise from the fourth beast, the little horn (or Antichrist) which arises from among the ten horns, the final judgment of the Ancient of Days, the eternal dominion of the Son of Man and the everlasting kingdom of the saints.

Daniel 7 is used in the New Testament in especially three ways. First, in the gospels, the title of "Son of Man" (Dan. 7:13) is our Lord’s characteristic term of self-designation. Second, in II Thessalonians 2 and elsewhere, the description of the little horn of Daniel 7 (also spoken of in later chapters of Daniel) is used in the New Testament presentation of Antichrist. Third, the book of Revelation, perhaps, alludes more to Daniel’s night vision than to any other chapter of his prophecy.

Let us summarize the contents of Daniel 7. The chapter divides neatly into two equal parts: verses 1-14 contain the vision and verses 15-28 provide the interpretation of the vision. The first half of the chapter also falls into two parts. In verses 1-8 we see the four beasts, the four horns and the little horn. Verses 9-14 speak of the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man and the final judgment. The interpretation in verses 15-28 treats the four beasts and then, in more detail, the fourth beast and then, in more detail, the little horn. The second half of Daniel 7 repeatedly states that the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom forever and ever (18, 22, 27).

The first beast is a lion—the Babylonian empire (4). The lion was not only the symbol of Babylon in ancient near eastern art; it is also an image of Babylon used by the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Jer. 4:7).

What is the significance of the symbolism of the first beast? The lion is the king of animals. We are told that the lion "had eagle’s wings;" the eagle is the king of the birds (Dan. 7:4). The first kingdom is presented as gold inDaniel 2, the most precious metal. All this bespeaks the great dignity, wealth and glory of Babylon. The plucking off of its wings indicates the end of its powerful conquests. Its being "made [to] stand upon the feet as a man" and having "a man’s heart ... given to it" speaks of a humanising process (7:4). "By Nebuchadnezzar’s receiving a ‘beast’s heart’ [4:16] the Babylonian empire was given a human heart" (E. J. Young, Daniel, p. 144).

The second beast is a bear—the Medo-Persian empire (7:5). The bear is strong and ferocious. Its being raised up on one side fits with its being a dual empire, of both Medes and Persians, as well as its going forward. The three ribs probably refer to especially three kingdoms it conquered: Babylon to the south, Lydia to the north and Egypt to the west. "Arise, devour much flesh" indicates its insatiable appetite for conquest (5).

The third beast is a leopard or panther—the Greek empire of Alexander the Great (6). As a leopard with "four wings," it is very fast and so it is speedy in conquest. The "four heads" are a prophecy that, after Alexander the Great’s death, the empire would be divided into four (6).

The fourth beast is the Roman empire (7). It is so awful that no beast or animal can be likened to it! Thus it is different "from all the beasts that were before it." It is "dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly," having two weapons of destruction. The first is its mouth with "great iron teeth" which "devoured and brake in pieces" (7). Second, with its feet and bronze nails, it "stamped the residue" (7, 19).

Let us consider the four beasts together and collectively. According to Daniel 7:17, the beasts are "four kings" or kingdoms, for a kingdom is ruled by and embodied in its king. Today, we would speak of these kingdoms as empires.

The four metals in the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 represent the same four kingdoms as the beasts in Daniel 7Daniel 2 clearly identifies the first empire as Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon (37-38). Daniel 8teaches that the second and third kingdoms are Medo-Persia and Greece (20-22). Rome is the fourth empire because it was in its day that Christ came as the stone "cut out of the mountain without hands" (2:45).

The origin of the beasts is the sea (7:2-3). The sea is restless, sinful humanity, the striving nations (Isa. 17:12-13). The "four winds of the heaven" beating upon the sea bespeak all manner of providences: migrations, wars, inventions, trade, etc. (Dan. 7:2). That the four empires "arise out of the earth" (17) indicates that they are earthy and human, the product of fallen, sinful humanity—kingdoms of man.

But why does Daniel 2 portray the four kingdoms as metals and Daniel 7 present these same empires as beasts? The metals, so to say, give us man’s perspective: these kingdoms are precious and glorious. The beasts, as it were, give us God’s perspective. He sees clearly the sin, idolatry, luxury and oppression of these empires. These kingdoms are dehumanising, the realm of beasts more than of men.

The particular animals chosen in Daniel 7 are rapacious and terrifying beasts which slaughter all in their way. What would you do if you saw one of these four creatures coming toward you? Scream! And run! The wicked world united into a powerful empire, making and enforcing ungodly laws and persecuting the saints, naturally strikes fear into the hearts of God’s people. Power-hungry, sinful men, framing mischief by a law, look to the ungodly like gold, silver, bronze and iron—glory and power ( Dan. 2). Yet to the saints, it is a terrifying beast ( Dan. 7). But "fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28)!

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 12
  • Issue: 1
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001


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