Daniel saw things. Things that were so disturbing it made him sick to his stomach. Things of evil and terror that keeps one awake at night.
I, Daniel, was terrified by my thoughts and my face was pale with fear, but I kept these things to myself. (Daniel 7:28b NLT)
Then I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for several days. Afterward I got up and performed my duties for the king, but I was greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it. (Daniel 8:27 NLT)
This wasn’t the first glimpse into the future by Daniel, yet it dealt a heavier blow, leaving Daniel pale with terror. What made these visions so different? Well for one thing, they came with quite a bit more detail and explanation. And another, they weren’t all rainbows and unicorns. Chronologically these two visions came to Daniel in the first three years of Belshazzar’s reign, before chapter 5. It’s no wonder Daniel didn’t hesitate when reading the writing on the wall; these visions provided ample explanation… and then some.
What does one do with information like this? For Daniel, in that moment, he kept it to himself, not sharing until years later. Why did God reveal these future terrors to Daniel and then to the rest of us? What are we supposed to do with it? Are we doomed? Before we dive into the details of these two chapters, the question that must remain throughout all our study and discussion is this: how does this text fit into the puzzle of God’s redemptive story? Because, after all, his redemption is really the whole point.
WHAT DO THE SCHOLARS SAY?
Let’s begin with the vision in chapter seven. It begins with the winged lion coming out of the sea, followed by a devouring bear, followed by a 4-winged / 4-headed leopard, and finally followed by a fourth beast, more terrifying than the rest. This beast came with no physical description per se; except that it had huge, iron teeth, bronze claws, and ten horns. Then suddenly a small horn emerged, taking out three of the original ten horns to make room for it. This little horn claimed human eyes and a mouth and boasted arrogantly.
Now let’s jump to the vision in chapter eight. In this vision we see two animals portrayed: a two-horned ram and a one-horned goat. The goat fiercely attacks the ram, subduing it quickly. At the height of the goat’s power, its horn was broken and replaced by four horns pointing in all directions of the earth, until from one of those horns another small horn emerged with great power. This small horn challenged a heavenly authority, an angel or perhaps God himself, bringing desecration to the Temple of God.
By considering the vision from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in conjunction with the explanation of these two visions in chapters seven and eight, plus the annals of recorded history as we know it, scholars have pieced together a plausible interpretation. But let’s be clear, no one can say for sure exactly what the prophecy entails for our world. There are literally thousands of possible pathways for these prophecies to complete. The only the things we know for sure are the limited explanations provided directly in scripture.
Four Succession Kingdoms
The four beasts in chapter seven seem to correlate strongly with the four major divisions of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which Daniel explained at that time as representing dominant kingdoms. The angel speaking to Daniel in this week’s text confirmed the same meaning for these beasts.
These four huge beasts represent four kingdoms that will arise from the earth. (Daniel 7:17 NLT)
If the correlation between this vision and that of Nebuchadnezzar’s is indeed valid, then the winged lion would correlate to the head of gold in the statue, the devouring bear would correlate to the chest of silver, the four-headed leopard to the torso of bronze, and the fourth beast to the legs and feet of iron and iron/clay.
Daniel’s interpretation in chapter two confirms that the first earthly government is Babylon. The interpretation in chapter eight gives more clarity to the succeeding two governments. Gabriel explains that the two-horned ram represents the growing power of Media and Persia; a government ruled by two kings that eventually overthrew Babylon.
The 3rd Kingdom
Gabriel goes on to explain that Greece would follow, represented by the one horned goat coming out of the west. History tells us that Alexander the Great, the first king of the Greek Empire and infamous military leader, took the world by storm with incredible speed, subduing the Medes and the Persians and most of the known world.
The goat became very powerful. But at the height of his power, his large horn was broken off. In the large horn’s place grew four prominent horns pointing in the four directions of the earth. (Daniel 8:8 NLT)
Alexander soon died at 32 years of age (323 BC), the height of his success. His four generals (Cassander, Ptolemy, Antigonus, and Seleucus) assumed power by dividing the empire into four regions.
The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first. (Daniel 8:22 NLT)
Daniel’s vision in chapter eight continues with a smaller horn rising up from one of the four horns on the goat, and pouring out great terror on the land of Israel (Dan 8:9). Most scholars believe that Antiochus Epiphanes (meaning “God Manifest” in Greek), who arose as the king from the region of Seleucid less than 150 years after the death of Alexander, was the fulfillment of this piece. Speaking of the smaller horn:
It even challenged the Commander of heaven’s army by canceling the daily sacrifices offered to him and by destroying his Temple. (Daniel 8:11 NLT)
Known also as Antiochus Epimanes (the Mad) by those who crossed him, he certainly desecrated the Temple by erecting an idol of Zeus and offering sacrifices at the feet of an idol in his own image. Tradition has it that he sacrificed a pig (considered to be most unclean by Jews) and sprinkled its blood all over the Temple, essentially destroying it and its holiness. Worshiping Yahweh and all Jewish rites were punished by death.
The 4th Kingdom
Chapter eight only discusses the two dominant kingdoms represented by the ram and the goat. They correlate to the bear and the leopard in the seventh chapter as well as by the silver chest and bronze torso in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Chapter seven states there is a fourth kingdom prophesied to succeed the leopard (also the goat).
This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path. (Daniel 7:23 NLT)
The fourth beast is described as having ten horns, which represent ten kings who will rule this empire. The little horn that comes up is described as different from the other ten, and seems to solidify his power by subduing and eliminated three of those kings. (Dan 7:24) This king will also oppress the holy people by changing sacred festivals and laws, and placing them under his control.
There could be a possible correlation of these ten horns to the ten toes in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, but almost certainly a correlation with the beast’s ten horns described in the Book of Revelation.
Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. (Revelation 13:1 NLT)
Interestingly, this beast that John describes in Revelation looks like a leopard, with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. All three of the other beasts mentioned in chapter seven of Daniel. Most scholars believe that this fourth kingdom in chapter seven is describing the final rebellion before the return of Christ, and that the little horn with eyes and a mouth is the Antichrist. While the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue is believed to be Rome, the parallels with this fourth kingdom in chapter seven to those described in Revelation are striking.
Some believe that the little horn in chapter eight is also describing the final Antichrist rather than Antiochus, due to the similar description, but because the little horn in chapter eight appears to arise out of the third kingdom, not the fourth, most tend to rule that out. Regardless, Antiochus at the very least is a picture of what is to still yet to come in the final rebellion. We know that Antiochus didn’t fulfill the prediction of the Antichrist in the 4th kingdom because Jesus refers to Daniel’s prediction as yet a future warning (Matthew 24:15), and the Apostle John wrote his revelation over 200 years after Antiochus.
We could go into a great more detail in these prophecies and the connections to Revelation, but there simply isn’t time here. Overall, these prophecies concern the immediate kingdoms that followed Babylon, including the world power and final rebellion before Christ’s return. Back to our original question, what do we do with this and how does it fit into redemption?
WHAT DO WE SEE IN OUR WORLD TODAY?
It’s quite possible that some of you signed up to study the Book of Daniel this fall, eagerly anticipating these two chapters. You were aware of the prophecies contained herein, and you’ve been wondering if we are living in those end-days right now. You’ve hoped to have that answered today.
It’s quite possible some of you have dreaded these two chapters all season. You were aware of the prophecies contained herein, and you’ve wondered if it would erupt into sensationalized discussion, bouts of tears, arguments, and the stockpiling of canned goods.
When it comes to end times prophecies, it’s critical to maintain an appropriate balance of wary concern to disregard. An extreme focus either way could result in confusion and distraction from our primary goal to know Him and to be with Him.
Looking for Christ
I believe God places within his holy people a longing and desire for the Kingdom. Scripture says that there was awareness and anticipation for Messiah at the time Jesus was born. The people who sought the Lord knew of Daniel’s timeline prophecy in chapter nine, and the time was drawing very close. They were looking for him.
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25 NLT)
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple…She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36,38b NLT)
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. (Luke 23:50-51 NLT)
It’s appropriate to eagerly expect our Lord. He wants us to want him. It’s okay to look around and wait for him, despite our inability to explain the longing. Jesus also warns us to be watchful and alert, always ready for his return at any moment.
“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about – the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” Reader, pay attention! (Matthew 24:15 NLT)
Looking for Truth
Each believer in Jesus should honestly study prophecy for herself. Understand and consider what the scholars suggest, and then ask God what it is he wants you to see in the scripture. Look around your world, follow the news if you wish, and examine the signs if there are any. Then ask God what it is he wants you to see in the world.
In Daniel’s second vision he said “truth was overthrown” in those final days. In times of sinful rebellion, truth is always overthrown. It’s one of the reasons Jesus has handed down these prophecies, so that we night have a basis of truth for comparison. He tells us to be watchful and alert so that we aren’t deceived into ignoring the signs.
It isn’t wise to completely disregard any possibility for signs of the end times, but it probably isn’t appropriate to see end times prophecies in every news program, government official, or piece of burnt toast either. The danger of “seeing” end-times everywhere is a different kind of deception, which I’ll get back to.
WHAT ARE WE REALLY LOOKING FOR?
One critical part of this passage in that has yet to be discussed, is the piece that describes all that’s right in the world. Daniel sees the Ancient One who sits on his throne in a court that will pass judgment on evil. (Dan 7:9-10, 26) He tells of the authority of the Son of Man and his eternal rule.
Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him. (Daniel 7:27 NLT)
Yes, be watchful and alert for signs of the end times, but what we’re really looking for is the Kingdom. Like I mentioned last week in chapter six, keep your eye on the angel rather than the hungry lion.
Scripture points clearly to a physical manifestation of a coming kingdom when Jesus returns. The stuff of dreams. Use caution, however, when searching for signs in our world. They can easily distract from the very real spiritual manifestation of the Kingdom occurring as we speak. If we keep our eyes pressed only toward the future, we often miss what’s offered right here, right now.
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”
Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)
Wow. Digest that fully. Then put these prophecies into that perspective.