Today we switch gears quite drastically in the book of Daniel. If you’ve been here, you know that we’re in a series called EXILED, going chapter by chatper through the book of Daniel. Up to this point, in the first six chapters, we’ve read about Daniel’s life in exile with his three friends—Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. We’ve seen God use Daniel, and promote Daniel in the Babylonian court as well as in the Persian court, and we’ve even seen Daniel and his three friends stand up to unbelievable pressure from all sides, refusing to compromise and thereby remaining faithful to God. That has been the first half of the book of Daniel, the first six chapters.
Today, we switch gears in the second half of the book, the second six chapters, which record Daniel’s apocalyptic visions. In other words, the next several weeks might get a little weird, because some of these visions are weird! Apocalyptic means that these are visions given to Daniel from God that specifically reveal unseen heavenly or future realities. That definition is in your notes. Even a better definition, I think, comes from Dale Davis: “I would say that biblical apocalyptic is a sort of prophecy that seeks to enlighten and encourage a people despised and cast off by the world with a vision of the God who will come to impose his kingdom on the wreckage and rebellion of human history—and it communicates this message through the use of wild, scary, imaginative, bizarre and head-scratching imagery.”
That’s what biblical apocalyptic means. So, the apocalyptic genre, to understand this type of writing, is heavily symbolic. It uses imagery and numbers and symbols to point to a meaning outside of those images, numbers, or symbols. This is certainly true today in Daniel chapter 7. So, as we work our way through chapter 7, I want you to be asking the question: “What bigger reality is this pointing to? That’s the question to ask. And just so you know, there’s a lot of explanation today, because we have four bizarre beasts. But, if you hang in, and come with me in trying to understand this vision, I promise it will be worth it. There is some incredibly strong application near the end of our time. So, to start, verses 1-8. Right off the bat, we get some bizarre symbolism:
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon [now that’s taking us back in time to the beginning of chapter 5 and the reign of the Babylonians, that’s when he saw this vision], so in King Belshazzar’s first year, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. 2 Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea.
Now just so you know, we see in a few other places in Scripture that the sea was often a symbol of chaos and rebellion. In fact, it was the home of monsters like Leviathan from ancient mythology. So not only do we start off with the sea, but we have this chaos multiplied by these winds coming from all corners of the earth! That’s what “four winds of heaven” means. These winds from all different directions adding to the chaos, and bringing about what happens next. Verse 3:
3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. [We’ll get into what these beasts probably mean in a minute, so just hold on through the beasts]. Verse 5: 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And this beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it.7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.
As you can tell this last beast in particular is terrifying. It doesn’t actually give a particularly animal to compare it to, likely because it was just that horrifying and maybe no animal would do it justice as far as giving us an accurate picture. So, as I mentioned at the beginning, biblical apocalyptic is not to be taken literally. Yes, he is seeing these beasts and he is trying to explain them in his own words, but God is not warning him about these literal animal-like beasts coming out of the sea to destroy. These are symbols representing something else. So, the question is, what are these beasts?
Now, there’s a lot of discussion on this, a lot of debate, and without getting into that too much, I want to just explain what is a common view and what makes perhaps makes a lot of sense. First, we know that an angel tells Daniel a bit later in verse 17: “These four great beasts are four kings who shall rise out of the earth.” That’s pretty great: the angel tells us, at least generally, what these beasts represent.
Now, as far as what kingdoms, it seems as if these four beasts represent kingdoms very similar to the kingdoms represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream back in chapter 2. If you remember back, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a “great image,” with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle of thighs of bronze, and legs of iron. After Nebuchadnezzar had this dream, Daniel explains to the him that the head of gold represents himself, King Nebuchadnezzar, and then the other three parts represent other kingdoms coming after him. So Daniel is not explicit about those three kingdoms after Nebuchadnezzar, but virtually all scholars agree that those kingdoms are Medo-Persian, Greece, and then Rome. Those are the three kingdoms in order after Nebuchadnezzar, and they fit well into Daniel’s explanation back in chapter 2.
Now, here in chapter 7, it seems as if these four beasts very likely represent these same four kingdoms. Although, to be sure, Daniel nor the angel are explicit. So we can’t really know for sure, and I think we’ll understand ore of why that is in just a minute. But first, I want us to walk through these beasts.
The first beast many would say represents Babylon, and that makes sense. This first beast is a lion with eagles wings, verse 4 says that this lion “was lifted up from the ground and made to stand like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it.” No doubt, this is kind-of bizarre, but that seems to take us back to Daniel chapter 4 when Nebuchadnezzar was given the mind of an animal to completely humble him, and then when he did finally humble himself, his reason returned. In other words, his mind came back to like that of a man’s! So, that would certainly make sense that this first beast represents Babylon, of which Nebuchadnezzar was king. Maybe that’s what that means.
The second beast here, Daniel writes, was like a bear that was raised up on one side. Maybe it’s deformed for some reason, or like, ready to attack. Or, if this is Medo- Persia, which is two countries combined, maybe that explains why the bear is raised up on one side—maybe the power of the two countries is not equal. That would make sense. Again, maybe this is Medo-Persia; maybe not.
The third beast was a leopard that had four birds’ wings on its back. It also had four heads. Try and picture that for a second. If this beast represents Greece, maybe that makes sense with its four wings representing speed and its four heads representing intelligence and awareness. Maybe this fits Alexander the Great who basically conquered the whole world before he was even 32 years old. Maybe.
And the fourth beast could very well represent Rome. This beast was the most hideous, the most powerful, not even represented well by any particular animal, apparently. It had ten horns, which probably represents 10 kings, or just a full set of kings (oftentimes numbers in apocalyptic are used not as exact measurements but as expressions). All these kings, all this incredible strength, could certainly fit Rome.
And then we have this little horn that grows up and boasts of great things and has eyes like that of a man, and we see later in verse 21, this little horn makes war with the saints and prevails over them. Verse 23 says this horn will devour the whole earth. Maybe this is a specific king of the Roman empire, some actually think Antiochus Epiphanes. This particular king horrifically oppressed the people of God and so he would fit some of these descriptions of this little horn on the fourth beast.
Or, maybe this is referring to the anti-Christ who has yet to come. Verse 25 says of this little horn that the saints of the most High will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. That’s three and a half times. We don’t know what a “time” is; maybe it’s a year, maybe it’s more. Some say this fits the timeline for particular tyrants in history, in particular Antiochus Epiphanes of Rome. Or, maybe this represents Satan himself and the first half of the 7-year tribulation that’s coming, assuming that’s literally just seven years.
I don’t think we can know for sure. The Bible does not tell us explicitly who these beasts refer to, other than that they’re “four kings who shall arise out of the earth.” But, we’re not given the specific names or kingdoms. And oftentimes the number four represents completeness. In other words, maybe it’s not speaking specifically of four individual kings, but instead giving us a picture of the age in which we live, all kingdoms from the fall all the way to the end. Either way, I think there’s a greater point being made here, and it’s number one in your notes:
- We live in the age of monsters.
We live in the age of chaos. Terrifying beasts since the history of man. And we surely are all part of this monstrous world, and we’re part of what makes it monstrous. Our sin and our narcissism and often our complete disregard for the well-being of others. Even though we are all part of this monstrous world, particular people come to mind who fit this description: Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Antiochus Epiphanes. We can jump ahead, of course, to more recent beasts: Hitler, Stalin, Kim John-un of North Korea. Throughout history, we see that we live in the age of monsters.
Another reason I think the point here is to refer to the age in which we still live right now, an age of monsters, not just four specific earthly kingdoms in the past, is because of what we see in Revelation chapter 13. We see THE beast coming out of the sea, the one that most think represents the anti-Christ or the “man of lawlessness,” guess how Revelation 13 describes THE beast. It’s a lion, it’s a bear, it’s a leopard, and it has ten horns. Sound familiar? It combines most of the features of these four beasts in Daniel 7. Why? What’s it getting at?
The beast that is to come— the strongest presence of Satan himself on the earth—we have shadows of that beast even now. Reminds me of 1 John 2:18- “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” He’s talking about NOW! We’re in the last days NOW! We’ve been in the last days since Christ’ came to the earth!
We LIVE in this age of beasts and anti-christs, those who stand up on behalf of Satan himself in opposition to God Almighty. Can I tell you what this means for us right now: we DO in one sense have reason to be afraid! There are scary things in this world, right now! That’s why God gave Daniel this terrifying vision, so explicit and graphic and horrifying. There is no denying it, that the world in which we live is a scary place where every evil manifested in human beings is a reflection of the work of the enemy himself. I’m not saying we can just blame him for everything, but I’m saying our sin, and especially the evils of the most horrifying of beasts represent his work.
That may sound strong, or scary, but that’s the point of these first 8 verses and these four beasts, is to scare us a little bit. We cannot pretend like things on the earth are find and dandy, there’s nothing wrong, our sins our small and trivial. No! We live in the age of monsters. Only at that point, when we realize all of that, can we see the incredible contrast that comes next. Verses 9-12:
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
- One day God will end all rebellion.
Did you catch the incredible abruptness here? This sudden and drastic change of scenery in Daniel’s vision? You have these crazy beasts that are incomprehensibly terrifying and violent and threatening! And then verse 9 totally out of nowhere: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.” Can I just say something: we may be terrified by what’s happening around us, and maybe in some ways we should be a little afraid (Daniel certainly was), but guess what: Our God is not afraid. Our God is not panicking. Our God is not shaking in his boots. You have this crazy chaotic and terrifying world of beasts, and then we switch to the most calm, collected, almost preoccupied with more important things, the Ancient of Days just taking his seat. I’m sorry, that picture is awesome.
The Ancient of Days, God Himself from all eternity, sits on THE seat of authority. We see his calm, that he’s not panicking in the slightest. He’s not running in there really quickly, “Oh shoot, what’s going on?!” then he sits down really quickly to deal with this chaos he totally didn’t expect. Nope, he’s calm, not panicking in the slightest. Then we see his just anger with the fire of his throne (it’s not that he’s indifferent, and that’s why he’s calm, no he’s angry, but it’s a righteous anger), and then we also see his absolute majesty with a thousand thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand angels around him serving him. He sits in the seat of authority, and he will end all rebellion. Even this terrifying little horn that grows to become a beast with no equal, whoever that little horn is, an earthly king or the beast of Revelation 13, he will be absolutely destroyed.
How, though? How, specifically, does the Ancient of Days triumph over not only earthly kingdoms and earthly kings but moreover against spiritual forces of evil, against THE enemy himself, and against even our own sin, our own part in this monstrous world? How does He triumph? Verses 13 and 14:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And 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 is one that shall not be destroyed.
How does the Ancient of Days triumph over all evil in the world and in our hearts: Jesus Christ. There is absolutely no doubt that this “son of man” in Daniel 7 is Jesus. Daniel was likely a bit confused by what he was seeing, which is why he called him a son of man, meaning this was a man from what he could tell, and yet he was coming on the clouds like only God would do. And then he’s given total dominion and authority and a kingdom that all people should serve him. This is the God-man. Thought #3 on these monsters or beasts:
- Even when monsters surround us, we can set our eyes on Jesus.
Even after seeing this, Daniel is alarmed; he doesn’t fully understand what he is seeing. We have the ability to look back and know that this is the God-man Jesus. But Daniel is alarmed and confused and so he goes to an angel there and asks him to explain the meaning of all of this, and the angel’s explanation is so short and so simple—verses 17 and 18:
‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’
This is when we get to the whole point of this apocalyptic vision that God gave Daniel. Yes, this world is scary, because there are spiritual forces of pure evil at work. And YET, God will end this rebellion, and God’s children will possess the only kingdom that will never end.
To Daniel in particular, he’s been living in exile for decades, seeing the work of the enemy all around him, and the work of depraved human beings. This apocalyptic vision assures Daniel that God is in control, and he will accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Is this not such a GREAT encouragement for us, believers in a place that is not our home? For Christians who are starting to see the tiniest bit of persecution in our country? When we compare to other countries, we have very little to complain about. But it’s still such an encouragement to know: God is in control, God has provided the redemption of all things in the son of man coming on the clouds.
In Mark 14, when the high priest directly asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus answered: “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus himself brings up Daniel 7, saying, “I am he!” There is no other title that Jesus uses more for himself than “son of man.” Not only will Jesus triumph in the end, but he already has triumphed. Jesus’ death and resurrection, I believe, bound Satan and his deceptive powers over the nations, so that the gospel may spread drastically all over the earth, and that Jesus would draw all men to himself. There’s so much joy to be found in the truth that Jesus has triumphed.
I think it’s funny that Daniel, even after hearing this, he’s still curious about the fourth beast, and wants to know more especially about the little horn that grows up and is particularly terrifying and even battles the saints. Daniel wants to know more! And the angel doesn’t really give him any more information. Instead, he kind-of repeats what Daniel already knows, gives a little bit more about this little horn, but never gives his name or any specific identifier.
Instead, after giving a little bit more information, “Sure, this little horn is going to speak against the Most High and even wear out God’s saints (that’s what verse 25 says), but then he says this. Verse 26:
But the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and destroyed to the end.
And the kingdom and the dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
The angel repeats what Daniel has already seen, yet again. It’s almost as if Daniel gets sidetracked here with the little horn, overly worried about it, so the angel says, “Look to the Ancient of Days and the son of man. Don’t miss the point of this being revealed to you about the beasts! The point is not a blueprint for the future so that you can know exactly what to expect! The point is not for you to know of every specific event leading up to the end and the name of every specific beast—otherwise God wouldn’t have given symbols; he would’ve just told us directly what was going to happen. It’s as if the angel is saying, “Don’t be obsessed with the beasts and their identities. Be obsessed with the Ancient of Days, who will kill the beast, destroy its body, and burn it with fire.”
Be aware of the realities of evil in this world. We need to be. Let’s not pretend like the world is fine and dandy and that the heart of man is essentially good. In our very cities right around here, how many children are abused, neglected, molested? How many wives are battered and abused? How many elderly are tricked and taken advantage of? How many of us have done things that we’re ashamed of? We should be aware of these evils that reflect the evil of the beast. We should be sobered by this present evil.
Then, we should look to God who is in no panic, and Jesus, who has TRIUMPED over evil, who has been given all dominion and authority, and who will give us the kingdom to possess forever and ever, not because we’re somehow less evil than the monsters, but because by God’s grace his wrath has been absorbed by one who was truly holy, the son of man, Jesus. Be aware of the monsters, but also be aware of our Great God.