Whereas the first six chapters of this book of Daniel are historical, Daniel chapters 7-12 are mainly predictive with a minimum amount of historical detail. Daniel 7-12 has four separate visions given at four separate times. The seventh chapter of Daniel is the most comprehensive vision of the four.
From a human perspective, it seemed as if the Babylonian captivity had shown that God was finished with the nations Israel and Judah. But our Lord said just the opposite to the prophet Jeremiah (33:24-26):
Have you noticed, [Jeremiah], that these people are saying, “The LORD has rejected the two kingdoms he chose?” So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation. This is what the LORD says, “If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not chose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.
The vision of this seventh chapter of Daniel will put the lie to the rumor that God was finished with his people Israel at the time of the Babylonian captivity. Therefore, this chapter may be the single most important chapter in Daniel. But this chapter also begins the “apocalyptic” (words about the kingdom of God, or the end of the world, delivered in dreams or visions) section of the book as well. Also, it bears noting that the narratives of Daniel’s experiences end just as they began in chapter 2. In the seventh chapter, however, four beasts arise out of the sea, whereas the second chapter had four parts of the body of the colossus, thereby completing the chiastic arrangement of these Aramaic chapters as was remarked on earlier. Also, we now move mostly to the “first-person voice” that is more like a diary, whereas the narratives up to the seventh chapter had more of the tone of a report in a “third person report.”
Generally, there are four main interpretive approaches to understanding the times indicated by this visionary literature. First, the Preterist approach claims that all the events described in these visions are past events. The second, called the Futurist interpretation, sees these visions as descriptions of things to come. Third, the historicist approach argues that these visions trace the ideological or theological development of an age or era, such as that of Israel or the Church. Fourth, the Idealist approach views these visions as symbolic representations of the age-long conflict between good and evil. Of these, we will take the Futurist point of view for these chapters because the writer places the events described as belonging to the “last days,” or “the day of the Lord.”
Chapter 7 takes us back to the first year of Belshazzar around 553 B.C., some nine years after Nebuchadnezzar’s death. It is the first recorded vision of the prophet Daniel which he personally received. The literary form, then, is one of a dream report of a symbolic account of real events. But the representational or symbolic forms, used in this vision, do not detract from the fact that this dream is a direct divine revelation to the prophet Daniel. The beasts in this animal vision are used to equate empires and kingdoms more in their internal character and inner workings, yet paralleling the vision that Nebuchadnezzar had in chapter 2. Very little interpretive advantage seems to be gained by attempting to detect the supposed original source from which these representations might have been taken, such as from some of the myths of the ancient Near East.
The combination of a lion with eagle’s wings, or a leopard with four heads and four wings, however, was not all that unusual for the art of that day, for often the palace entrances had such representational beasts that had wings and the head of a man as part of the architectural composition. The University of Chicago Oriental Museum, for example, has an approximately fifty-ton stone representation of an Assyrian king formed in just that style. It is a massive animal with the head of a man and the wings of a giant bird.
Title: “Receiving and Possessing God’s Eternal Kingdom”
Text: Daniel 7:1-28
Focal Point: vv 17-18 “The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will arise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever—yes, forever and forever.”
Homiletical Keyword: “Participants”
Interrogative: Who are the participants who receive and possess the eternal kingdom of God?
I. The Animal Vision of the Tyrants of Past Empires (7:1-8)
II. The Judge of the Whole Earth (7:9-12)
A. The Ancient of Days
B. The Boastful Horn
III. The Son of Man, Our Conquering Hero (7:13-14)
A. Coming from the Clouds of Heaven
B. Given an Eternal Dominion and Authority
IV. The Saints of the Most High (7:15-27)
A. The Interpretation of the Animal Vision
B. The Meaning of the Holy Ones
C. The Meaning of the Fourth Beast
V. The Aftermath (7:28)
(STUDY OF TEXT BEGINS…)
I. The Animal Vision of the Tyrants of the Past Empires (7:1-8)
Daniel has chosen to share as the first vision that he himself received in a night dream that came to him while he was lying on his bed in the first year of Belshazzar (1). Indeed, many evangelical scholars have viewed this vision as one of the key prophecies of the Bible in which God has outlined the future of the world extending from the rule of the Babylonians to the Second Advent of Messiah. This would explain why this chapter is so highly regarded by many interpreters.
Daniel saw “the four winds of heaven” “churning up the great sea” (2). It appears that these four winds were coming from heaven and that they were stirring up either the Mediterranean Sea or, better still, the sea of humanity (Lk 21:25; Mt 13:47; Rev 13:1). The collocation of these four winds, a churned-up sea, and the imagery of the animals, together suggested something more than the usual or ordinary type of storm. Nevertheless, from out of the agitated sea came one animal representing one empire after another.
The first animal of the four appeared “like a lion” with “the wings of an eagle” (4). Such a motif was not unfamiliar to those who were accustomed to Babylonian art, nor were the allusions to the speed and strength of this lion, much less the soaring flight of an eagle, lost on that original audience. The winged lion was well known in that day as a symbol of the Babylonian Empire. For just as the lion was the king of the beasts and the eagle was the most noble among the birds, so Daniel 2 had earlier represented Babylon as the head of gold, the most valuable and cohesive of all the metals.
The prophet watched until its wings were “torn off” and “it was lifted from the ground and “stood on two feet like a man,” as a “heart of a man was given to it” (4). This may refer to both the early end of this empire and the rebuke of God that Nebuchadnezzar underwent until he finally was restored in his sanity after seven years of living as an animal.
Daniel’s second beast arising from the churning sea “looked like a bear,” which was raised on one side and it had three ribs in its mouth (5). It was given permission of rise up and “eat [its] fill.” The huge size of this animal may well reflect the fact that the kingdom of Medo-Persia had an army of some two and a half million men (as we are informed from other sources about the battle of Xerxes against Greece). The fact that it was raised on one sided fits very nicely, not only with its predatory stance, but with the fact that Persia was more dominate than Media in this joint partnership arrangement, just as the colossus in Daniel 2 signified this same duality with the silver chest and the two arms. Daniel would later learn that all four animals represented four kingdoms (17). Moreover, in Daniel 8, the ram, which repeats the vision of the bear, had two horns as well, again pointing to the two nations of Media and Persia.
The three ribs in the mouth of the bear are clearly three territories the bear has captured or conquered, but there is not always current agreement on which kingdoms they pointed to. But Gleason Archer (Daniel, p 86) pointed to the fact that Cyrus and his son Cambyses were involved in three major campaigns: in 546 B.C. they triumphed over the Lydian kingdom in Asia Minor (present day Turkey), in 539 B.C. they defeated Babylon, and in 525 B.C. Cambyses annexed the kingdom of Egypt. These probably are the three ribs the text representationally referred to here.
A third animal arose from the storm-tossed sea, i.e., a leopard (6). This animal also was a composite, for it had four wings like a bird on its back and it also had four heads. It too was given authority to reign (6e). “After that,” (6a), a note that clearly implies that these kingdoms were sequential and were not to be seen as ruling simultaneously, is specifically pointed out.
This leopard represented Alexander the Great who ruled and conquered huge territories from 334 B.C to 322), but who was followed by his four generals after he suddenly died down near what is today known as Afghanistan. The four heads were his four generals named: Lysimachus, Cassander, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. Cassandra ruled over Macedonia and Greece; Lysimachus was given Thrace and Asia Minor as his kingdom; Seleucus was set over northern Syria and other eastern regions; and finally Ptolemy was installed as ruler over southern Syria, Palestine and Egypt.
The fourth beast was the most terrifying and powerful one of the four animals. Its description focused more on the fact that it had “large iron teeth” and “ten horns,” for it certainly was “different from all the former beasts” (7). As Daniel was focusing on these ten horns of this beast an eleventh horn sprang up and it proceeded to uproot three of the former ten horns (8).
Futurists interpret this “little horn” to be the Antichrist. Our argument is that this fourth kingdom is that final kingdom that will appear at the end of history when a ten-nation federation will arise out of the ruins of the old former Roman Empire. Then it will happen that Antichrist, as the eleventh, but little, horn will uproot three of the ten nations of that day. He has the eyes of a man and a boastful mouth that promotes himself and his work.
Revelation 17:3 has the last world empire as a scarlet beast embracing a tenfold division. Likewise, Paul wrote to the Thessalonicans that this same Antichrist would be known as “the Man of Sin” or “the Son of Perdition” (2 Thess 2:3) or “that wicked One” whose mouth spoke boastfully (2 Thess 2:8).
II. THE JUDGE OF THE WHOLE EARTH 7:9-12
A. The Ancient of Days
As Daniel continued receiving the vision, the scene shifted from the agitated sea to a heavenly space, where the throne of God was then seen (9). This could be a description of none other than “the High and lofty One, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa 57:15), the Lord God himself. The writing style also switched at this point in the text from prose to poetry consisting of short phrases. Daniel mentions that he saw thrones (plural) in the heavenly court which, because the word is plural, has raised much discussion among scholars. Since God is worshiped as One God, why are “thrones” needed? But this same text introduces “one like the Son of Man” (13), who is given an everlasting kingdom, which we assume that he too has a throne (14). Often the New Testament pictures Jesus as the “son of Man” “sitting at the right hand of God the Father” (Mt 26:64; Mk 14:62). This, then, would meet the requirements of the plural thrones.
The Ancient of Days is one old in age from an anthropomorphic representation of God’s eternality, but he too is the Judge of everything, including empires as well (Ps 9:5; 29:10; Isa 28:6). His clothing is white, denoting his purity and truth, as does the whiteness of his hair (9). Moreover, his “throne was flaming with fire,” and the wheels of his chariot were also “ablaze” (9). While fire is often associated with God’s coming in judgment, it also depicts here his majesty and his authority. “A river of fire” (10) came out from before him as judgment poured out against all wickedness. At the ready to do his will were myriads of angels as the court readied itself to hear the case as the books were opened. These “books,” which keep the status of mortals on earth, are mentioned elsewhere in Exodus 32:32; Isaiah 65:6; Daniel 12:1; Malachi 3:16 and Luke 10:20.It is from these books that God’s judgment will proceed.
B. The Boastful Horn
As Daniel continued to watch this vision, the boastful horn that he had seen in the vision of the fourth beast reappeared in his vision. The text once again lapses back into prose form. However, the fourth kingdom symbolized by the fourth beast was destroyed and “thrown into the blazing fire” (11).
The parenthetical remark of verse 12 is difficult to understand, but it pointed to the fact that all dominion and all authority, except that of God’s, would be dealt with by God, even though they were allowed “to live for a period of time” (12b). But judgment would come on them as well.
III. THE SON OF MAN, OUR CONQUERING HERO (7:13-14)
A. Coming from the Clouds of Heaven
The introductory formula of verse 2 is repeated here in verse 13, thereby blocking out or marking the beginning and the end of the section in verses 2-14. The human-like figure is set forth as “one like the son of man” (13). Putting his name in this simile, it stressed the humanity of his person. It is this very same title used of himself, with some thirty-one other instances in Matthew’s gospel alone (e.g., Mt 8:20; 9:6; 10:23). Jesus’ humanity is deliberately set over against the “beastly” nature of the worldly dominions that had preceded his.
But this “son of man” also had the status of deity, for he came “with the clouds of heaven” (13b). In fact the earliest interpretation of this passage was Messianic (e.g. in the parable of Enoch 37-71).
The “son of man” approached the “Ancient of Days” (13c) and an investiture ensued as the “son of man” was given absolute power and supreme authority that will never be destroyed or pass away (14).
B. Given an Eternal Dominion and Authority
The contrast between the kingdom given to the son of man and that possessed by the four earthly dominions could not be greater. This verse 14 repeats the lesson Nebuchadnezzar had learned in 2:20-22 that God alone was sovereign and that his kingdom would be eternal.
The gift that was bestowed on the son of man was actually threefold. First there was the “dominion” represented his ruling authority. Then the gift of his “glory” pointed to the honor that would accompany his reception and use of that ruling authority. Finally, the gift of his kingdom likewise represented his sovereign power. These gifts would never pass away, for they were self-contained, non-contingent and strong enough to endure all time and all eternity.
After reading this, it makes the believer want to sing: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise. In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes; Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days; Almighty, victorious, they great name we praise.”
IV. THE SAINTS OF THE MOST HIGH (7:15-27)
A. The Interpretation of the Animal Vision
Despite the strong note of hope described in the last six verses (9-14), this prophet was still disturbed by the vision given to him (15). Therefore, he plainly stated to the interpreting angel that he did not fully understand “the true meaning of all this” (16b). Daniel had seen myriads of angels attending to the worship of God around the throne of God (10), so he asked “one of those standing there” (16a) to help him understand what this vision meant. Later on, an interpreting angel will be named – Gabriel (8:16; 9:21) – but whichever angel it was then, is unnamed here.
The angel complies with the request and states very simply that “the great beasts are four kingdoms that will arise from the earth” (17). But that is not how things will end up, for God will subdue all those kingdom and he will give to “the saints of the Most High” (18a) a kingdom that will never fade away or be destroyed (18b).
B. The Meaning of the “Holy Ones”
In Daniel 8:24, this same group called “the saints of the Most High” seem to be the “holy people,” that is the Jews. But by New Testament times, it is the group of believers who share that portion of the future kingdom of God that has already been manifested in Messiah’s first advent (Col 1:13). But nothing of the Christian Church had as yet been revealed to Daniel, so for him, these Holy Ones were the chosen people of Israel who believed. Scholars have rightly referred to this phenomenon as “Inaugurated Eschatology,” (i.e., a word about the future in which there was both a “now” fulfillment aspect as well as a “not yet” fulfillment. This dual aspect of the same one sense or meaning may be illustrated from 1 John 3:2, where the apostle John teaches, “Dear friends, now are we children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” (emphasis mine). Thus, this group includes both those, who as Jewish people believe in Messiah in Daniel’s day, and all who subsequently trust Messiah as Savior on into Christian times.
C. The Meaning of the Fourth Beast.
Daniel is most concerned about this fourth beast, which was so different from the other three kingdoms (19). Once again, what was recounted in verses 7-8 is repeated in verses 19-20. This beast is linked with the legs and toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s colossus in Daniel 2. The only addition here from verses 7-8 is that this beast also has “iron claws” and we are told a bit more about the eleventh horn.
The vision continued to play out in Daniel’s mind with the Little Horn making himself more imposing than the other horns as he spoke boastfully. This eleventh horn made war with the saints and was defeating them unti the Ancient of Days stepped in and rendered a judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High (21-22).
Then the interpreting angel gave this explanation of the fourth beast. That fourth beast will appear on earth following the rise and demise of the preceding three kingdoms (23a). But two features of this fourth beast needed to be emphasized: (1) it was “different” from all the other beasts, and (2) it will “devour the whole earth” (23c,d). So different is it that it cannot be likened to any animal as the other three kingdoms were so linked. It just trampled and crushed everything, apparently in wanton destruction (23e).
The angel also explained that the ten horms were ten kings that would arise from this fourth kingdom (24a), but this boastful horn would subdue three of those ten kings (24b-c). But this eleventh horn would be marked by four characteristics: (1) he will blaspheme the Most High God, (2) he will oppress the saints of the Most High trying to wear them down, (3) he will attempt to change the set times, perhaps by implementing a new calendar of religious festivals, and (4) he will use his power to oppress the saints for “a time, times, [plural] and a half time” [literally, “a dividing”] ( 25). This last expression is taken to mean a period of three-and-a-half years, for a “time” meant a “year” in Daniel 8:14. Just where this period is located in history is not said in this passage, but further on in the book of Daniel it is the period of time between the desecration of the temple and the time of the end of history (Dan 12:7; Rev 12:14) . The reign of this Little Horn ends almost as quickly as it arose, for he will be stripped on his power and completely destroyed forever (26). This is mandated by the “court,” which reminds us again of the throne scene in verses 9-11. Instead of this fourth kingdom with a ten horned confederacy governed by the same one named in Revelation 13 and 17, the rule and reign of God will take its place and that forever and forever (27). From that time on out, all rulers will worship and serve Yahweh and his son (27d).
V. THE AFTERMATH (7:28)
This seventh chapter concludes much like the book of Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now hear the conclusion to the whole matter.” But if the matter is resolved, or so this expression would seem to imply, then why is Daniel still “deeply troubled” by his thoughts and his “face turned pale?” (28). Surely he understood the basic plan of God annonced here, but was the issue that he wished to learn more of the details? He will indeed learn more in what follows, for his prophecy has not ended at this point despite some who argue otherwise. The answer appears to be that Daniel wants us as his listeners to expect more to come in order to clarify some of the matters that need further explanation
1. Every government on earth can only act either under the permission or direction of God.
2. Not one of all the forms of human government will survive the final destruction of Antichrist and all those who carry out his will.
3. God has a plan and a timetable for the events that are happening now and for the end of the whole, but whose dates are known only to him.
4. Suffering is not to be judged an unexpected event in the life of a believer, for our Lord wants to use even that for his own honor and glory and for our growth in Christ.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com