Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
The chaos is all around us. Politics. Wars. Even the weather seems to defy order and rational explanation. Because so much of our lives just happens to us, it often feels like chaos- an unorganized raging sea whose waves just keep thrashing and pounding.
Even the kings and kingdoms we see around us seem to be a product of the chaos- or they at least seem to be contributing to it. Our own government, in what is arguably among the most advanced and sensible cultures on the planet, often seems like a three ring circus.
What hope is there in such a world? Whether we are looking at the big picture or the minute details of our lives, it’s easy to lose hope. The visions of Daniel were given by God for such a time as this.
The world, ourselves included, needs to know who God is in the midst of all this chaos. We have to know, in order to walk by faith in the midst of it. And wouldn’t you know it, Daniel’s first vision starts with a raging sea.
As we get into this vision, we have to remember that apocalyptic visions in the Bible are representations of real truths that God’s people need. These visions are not security camera footage of the future, rather they are a theological interpretation of events that have happened, are happening, or will happen. Each vision must be understood in light of the context in which the vision was given.
Dan. 7:1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream with visions in his mind as he was lying in his bed. He wrote down the dream, and here is the summary of his account. 2 Daniel said, “In my vision at night I was watching, and suddenly the four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea. 3 Four huge beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.
Daniel and his first readers were Israelites in exile in Babylon in the late 6th century BC. The co-regency of kings Nabonidus and Belshazzar started around 553 BC. The “great sea” is the Mediterranean Sea. The beasts that Daniel will see represent earthly kingdoms both present and future from Daniel’s perspective.
There is some disagreement about what kingdom corresponds to what beast, but the overall point is clear: these kingdoms assert themselves as the power on earth, yet one by one they are replaced by another.
Dan. 7:4 “The first was like a lion but had eagle’s wings. I continued watching until its wings were torn off. It was lifted up from the ground, set on its feet like a man, and given a human mind.
The Lion with eagle’s wings is a well known symbol of Babylon. The losing of the wings might be a reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling by God. Daniel lived through the glory and demise of the Babylonian empire of the 6th century BC.
Dan. 7:5 “Suddenly, another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, with three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up! Gorge yourself on flesh.’
The bear being “raised up on one side” means standing on its hind legs, either to pounce or just to show off. This is probably a reference to Medo-Persia, the kingdom which succeeded Babylon. The three ribs may indicate his “insatiable” appetite, probably the military appetite of the Medo-Persian empire. The command for it to eat is symbolic of military conquest.
Dan. 7:6 “After this, while I was watching, suddenly another beast appeared. It was like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back. It had four heads, and it was given dominion.
In Daniel, God alone gives dominion to empires. He appoints kings and kingdoms. This leopard is probably the Greek empire. The four heads could plausibly be a reference to the “Diadochi”- four generals who replaced Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.
Dan. 7:7 “After this, while I was watching in the night visions, suddenly a fourth beast appeared, frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong, with large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and it trampled with its feet whatever was left. It was different from all the beasts before it, and it had ten horns.
Dan. 7:8 “While I was considering the horns, suddenly another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. And suddenly in this horn there were eyes like the eyes of a human and a mouth that was speaking arrogantly.
This fourth beast is categorically different, a point which is emphasized in both the description and the interpretation. This is a new kind of terrifying beast.
The ten horns and the little horn are variously interpreted depending on the interpretive scheme applied. In general, a horn stands for kingship and power. If the four kingdoms of Daniel chapter two are consistent with the four beasts of this vision, then this could be a reference to the Roman Empire.
Having seen four powerful earthly kingdoms, the Spirit now shows Daniel a glimpse of God, the one with true power and authority.
Dan. 7:9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire.
The plural reference to “thrones” means that at least two are in view- one for the Father and the Son (cf. 7:13, Mk. 14:62). The title “Ancient of Days” is unique to Daniel, and reflects the eternality of God. The white clothing indicates purity and majesty, while the white hair indicates wisdom. God is qualified to judge.
The fire imagery is common in visions of God, and probably pictures pure judgement (cf. 7:11). Wheels on the throne reflect the reality that God’s throne is mobile, and therefore his authority and right to judge have no limit.
10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence. Thousands upon thousands served him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was convened, and the books were opened.
The river of fire is representative of God’s judgment. Yes, the four beasts are imposing, but they must answer to the Judge. The thousands are probably angelic servants of God. The books are records from which God will make judgement. These are the books in which the deeds of all humanity are written.
Dan. 7:11 “I watched, then, because of the sound of the arrogant words the horn was speaking. As I continued watching, the beast was killed and its body destroyed and given over to the burning fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was removed, but an extension of life was granted to them for a certain period of time.
The picture here is of God judging the beasts by fire. Each beast is judged after a given time, which shows God’s authority over every kingdom.
13 I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him.
14 He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.
The Son of Man is a human figure. In the New Testament God makes it clear that this is Jesus. He uses this title of himself many times (cf. Matt. 8:20, 24:30, 25:31). Clouds are frequently a sign of theophany, a time when God appears to man (note Ex. 16:10, 1 Kings 8:10).
The Son of Man stands at the center of this vision. God the Father gives him all authority and the greatest kingdom. His dominion is over the entire earth including all people groups, and the duration of his kingdom is forever. There is no beast that can supplant his authority.
Dan. 7:15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was deeply distressed within me, and the visions in my mind terrified me. 16 I approached one of those who were standing by and asked him to clarify all this. So he let me know the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘These huge beasts, four in number, are four kings who will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever, yes, forever and ever.’
This highlights the purpose of the vision for the exiles, and the main point. Those connected to the Son of Man will reign with him forever, even though these kingdoms seem so strong.
Dan. 7:19 “Then I wanted to be clear about the fourth beast, the one different from all the others, extremely terrifying, with iron teeth and bronze claws, devouring, crushing, and trampling with its feet whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three fell—the horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that looked bigger than the others. 21 As I was watching, this horn waged war against the holy ones and was prevailing over them 22 until the Ancient of Days arrived and a judgment was given in favor of the holy ones of the Most High, for the time had come, and the holy ones took possession of the kingdom.
This section probably describes the resulting judgment decided by and performed by God in 7:9-11. The reason the little horn is mentioned here briefly is to assure Daniel that even though the godly face persecution, God’s purposes endure.
Dan. 7:23 “This is what he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, different from all the other kingdoms. It will devour the whole earth, trample it down, and crush it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will rise from this kingdom. Another king, different from the previous ones, will rise after them and subdue three kings. 25 He will speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High. He will intend to change religious festivals and laws, and the holy ones will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court will convene, and his dominion will be taken away, to be completely destroyed forever. 27 The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey him.’
The difference of the 11th king is in his arrogance and godlessness. He will blaspheme God explicitly (25a), oppress the saints with long lasting persecution (25b), attempt to change the “times” of religious festivals (25c), and attempt to change the law (of God) and impose a new morality (25c). Unfortunately, many kings throughout history fit this description.
A time, times, and half a time = 3.5 years, an amount of time in which believers will be persecuted. This may be a literal period of time or a symbolic period of time. One way or another, God will judge this fourth kingdom and his kingdom will replace it.
The angel explains to Daniel that the Messiah’s kingdom will come and destroy the kingdom of the beast and the people of God will reign with him.
Dan. 7:28 “This is the end of the account. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts terrified me greatly, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”
Why was Daniel upset even given the ultimate “happy ending” of the vision? Probably due to threat that evil posed to God’s people. Yes, God’s purposes will endure, but it wouldn’t be an easy road for the faithful.
The Big Picture
Given the chaos in the world, this vision is intended to provide a comprehensive narrative for the believer. The Father will judge, the Son will reign, and the Saints will endure.
Jesus is at the center of God’s plan. In this vision, the presentation of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days is the key moment. When he arrived, he announced that kingdom of heaven was at hand. That means that the arrival of Jesus, in one sense, signals the beginning of the end for earthly kingdoms.
Every time someone repents of their sin and turns to Jesus in faith, his kingdom grows. No military or law can stop this growth, and no earthly force can over power it. The church’s mission is guaranteed to succeed!
The judgment pictured in this vision is reserved for Jesus’ return. This means that when we see or experience sin, evil, and injustice we can comfort ourselves with a sure hope in God’s judgment.
One final component of the vision is the participation of the saints. All believers are saints, because by faith in Jesus our sins are paid for and so we are made holy. The Apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” While we may suffer persecution for a time, ultimately we will reign with Jesus, the Son of Man.
Taking It Home
If Jesus is the center of God’s plan, we must ask is he the center of our plan? Do we read his Word? Pray robustly? Talk about him? Yes our world is chaotic, and this is all the more reason to maintain our focus on Jesus.
We miss so much in life because our plan doesn’t center on Jesus. He will reign over all forever. He is king today, we simply are awaiting his return.
When does his kingdom matter?
When we wake up. God calls us to be about his kingdom business every day, even in this midst of everyday stuff (work, school, family).
When we buy into other kingdoms. They won’t last, no matter how shiny or bulletproof they seem.
When we are wronged. We will experience suffering and undergo persecution. When this happens, we can take comfort in the fact that the Father will judge those who violate others. No enemy of his purposes will escape.
When we wrong others. When this happens, run to cross! Confess and repent, praise Jesus for his work. Because of the Son of Man, we are forgiven.
When we die. Death is not the end of God’s plan for us. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. No regrets- at the end of our lives may we be able to say I lived for Jesus. His kingdom is forever.
The Father will judge, the Son will reign, and the Saints will endure– no matter how chaotic the oceans seem.
- Praise God that he is sovereign over all kingdoms. Pray for Jesus to return to judge the nations and put a final end to rebellion against him.
- Ask God to help you make and keep his kingdom as your number one priority.
- Pray for persecuted Christians around the world. Ask God to give them faith and endurance in their trials, and to comfort them with the truth that his justice will be done.