Vision of the Four Beasts – Daniel 7

Read the passage: Daniel 7

Daniel’s Dream (7:1–8)

Daniel notes that he received a dream “in the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon,” which was 553 BC. Chronologically speaking, the events of chapter 7 occurred after those in chapter 4 and roughly 14 years before the events of chapters 5–6. The dream that Daniel had, which is remarkably similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream (cf. Dan. 2:1–13), consisted of a vision of four beasts which parallel Nebuchadnezzar’s four-tiered image. While apocalyptic literature can be confusing, as it is full of symbolism and allusions to future history, we must remember that its purpose is encouragement. It is about comfort, not one’s calendar. The themes are always similar: the proliferation of sin and evil, God’s care for His people, and the ultimate triumph of God’s kingdom. As we’ll see, Daniel’s dream was a summary of world history from his time until the end of the world.

Daniel notes that the four beasts “came up from the sea” (7:3). The imagery here seems to be two-tiered as a dreadful storm on the Mediterranean or “Great Sea” seems to be in view; yet, the term “sea” probably refers more specifically to the mass of humanity (cf. Dan. 7:17). The “four winds” (Dan. 7:2) that stirred the sea are the Spirit of God. The beasts Daniel sees were like a lion (cf. Dan. 7:3–4), a bear (cf. Dan. 7:5), a leopard (cf. Dan. 7:6) and a ten horned dreadful beast (cf. Dan. 7:7–8). The vision is certainly confusing and troubling, both for us and for Daniel (cf. Dan. 7:15, 28); however, an interpretation is provided by an angelic visitor—likely Gabriel (cf. Dan. 8:16)—in Dan. 7:15–27. Here we learn that the beasts are four kings, which represent four empires, traditionally understood to be Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

God’s Throne (7:9–14)

While we may be tempted to try and discern the chronology of the details included in this passage, the focus of this text is actually the “Ancient of Days.” Of course, this is God the Father who is sovereignly in control of history. The description of God in this passage is probably the most detailed physical description of God in the Bible. In this passage Daniel mentions “hair,” which would indicate age, “snow” and “wool,” which would indicate purity, and “fire,” which would indicate judgment. Note also that God’s throne has wheels (cf. Ezek. 1:15–26), depicting the Lord’s omnipresence, and that there are other thrones present as well, likely for those who will reign with the Lord (cf. Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 3:21; 4:4; 11:16; 20:4). Moreover, God is surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands of beings—the biggest numbers available in ancient vocabularies.

As Daniel watched in his vision the “Ancient of Days” destroyed the little horn with “burning flame” (Dan. 7:11) that “came forth from Him” (Dan. 7:10)—perhaps indicative of the lake of fire in Rev. 19:20. Moreover, the other beasts all were stripped of their power, as well (Dan. 7:12). Concluding the vision one “like the Son of Man” appears. This one is given power, glory, and a kingdom to rule forever. This is the first of two times that the phrase “son of man,” which occurred 93 times in the book of Ezekiel, appears in the book of Daniel (it also appears at Dan. 8:17). This phrase occurs 78 times in the Gospels and must refer to Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 16:26; 19:28; 26:64). Note that the idea of “all people, nations, and languages” serving the Lord is referenced at Rev. 5:9; 14:6. This picture of Jesus is meant to comfort Daniel in the midst of the troubling visions.

Angel’s Interpretation (7:15–28)

Understandably, Daniel’s reaction to the terrors he saw in his vision was one of grief, anxiety, and fear (cf. Dan. 7:15, 28). Since Daniel was equally troubled both before and after the dream is interpreted, it seems that it was both the creatures in his vision and their meaning that vexed him. In this passage, an angel clearly tells Daniel that the four beasts are four kings. These kings are likely to be identified with Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Alexander the Great, and Anti-Christ. They are identical to the tiers in Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier vision and they represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Note the repetitive theme in this chapter of the kingdom of God, which was given to the Son of Man and shared with the saints (cf. Dan. 7:14, 18, 27). Since this kingdom is everlasting, the dream is communicating the eternal victory of God over the kingdom of this world.

Application Questions:

  1. Why does God communicate in dreams, visions, and other nebulous forms of revelation such as parables (cf. Matt. 13:10–13; Luke 8:10)?
  2. How might Daniel’s dream, recorded in this chapter, have shaped his interaction with King Belshazzar, which was recorded in Dan. 5?
  3. If Christians can’t agree on their interpretation, why should we be concerned, if at all, with end-times prophecies (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10–13)?
  4. Does evil in the world cause you anxiety? What types of evil in the world are most concerning to you—war, injustice, health issues, etc.?
  5. What is the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 17:21; Rom. 14:17)? Has the kingdom of God already begun or is it yet to come?