SERIES: Integrity is No Accident: The Book of Daniel
From History to Prophecy
Introduction: We have completed the narrative portion of the Book of Daniel and for the next six weeks we will be wrestling with the prophetic portion, which takes up the entire last half, chapters 7-12. I use the term “wrestling” advisedly, because this portion of God’s Word contains some very difficult concepts. I thought about just quitting after chapter 6, but my conscience won’t allow that. After all, a vast portion of the Scriptures was prophetic when written, some of it is still prophetic from our standpoint today, and all of it is inspired and profitable.
Before tackling Daniel 7, however, I would like to take a few moments to consider a broader issue, namely the purpose of Biblical prophecy. Why is so much of the Bible prophetic?
I think there are several answers.
Prophecy authenticates God and His Word. Every time a prediction is fulfilled, it sets God and His Word apart from every other being and every other book. Oh, there have always been those who claimed to have the gift of prophecy. Some, like Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, have gained large followings, despite the fact that multiple predictions they have made have been clearly mistaken. In the more secular vain Edgar Cayce, Jeanne Dixon, and the J. Z. Knight have all had very poorly-deserved reputations as clairvoyants. Their reputations have been far more the result of aggressive marketing than of any correspondence between their predictions and reality.
When one looks at biblical prophecies, however, one finds a record of unparalleled accuracy. In fact, God’s requirement for a prophet is that he be right 100% of the time (Deut. 18:22) or he should be put to death. That’s a fairly high standard, and only biblical prophets could ever meet it.
It is not only God’s written word that is authenticated through prophecy, however; so is the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Of all the prophetic themes of the Bible—Israel, the nations, the Church, the Great Tribulation, the millennial kingdom—clearly the greatest and most common theme is the coming of Christ, both His first and second comings. The Old Testament offered hundreds of prophecies about His first coming, every one of which was fulfilled in explicit detail. And the Lord’s return is mentioned over 300 times in the New Testament. While these prophecies have obviously not yet been fulfilled, it seems that the wise approach would be to trust a source that has proved so trustworthy in the past.
The record of biblical prophecy should lead the rational person to conclude that God is indeed the sovereign Lord of history and His Word is absolutely reliable. A second purpose of biblical prophecy is …
To give us hope when the future looks bleak. I don’t know about you, but when I look around, I don’t see a lot of reasons to be optimistic about our government, politics, international relations, culture, economy, education–you name it. And yet I’m basically an optimistic person! I am very concerned about the legacy we are in the process of leaving today’s children. There has been such deterioration in real quality of life in the past forty years that if the present rate of decline continues, I don’t know what my grandchildren will face when they are my age.
When I speak of quality of life, I’m not talking about possessions, conveniences, transportation, communications, or things like that—obviously there has been great improvement in those areas. I’m talking about things that really matter—values, family, community, pride of work, loyalty, integrity, security, safety.
Frankly, I think I would often reach the point of despair were it not for my conviction that God has revealed to us the last chapter of human history. Yes, it comes in a form that is somewhat enigmatic, but one thing is crystal clear, namely that God and His people are going to come out on top in the end. The ultimate victor in the spiritual battles we face is not in doubt, and that keeps me going. That puts the trials and traumas of life into perspective. That’s what prophecy does for me.
With that as introduction, I ask that you open your Bibles with me and follow as I read Daniel 7:1-28.
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it.
5 “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’
6 “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
9 “As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.
11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot 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 of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.
23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.
26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
28 “This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”
The vision of the four beasts
Daniel received this vision of the Four Beasts in a dream and wrote it down for us. It occurred when he was in his mid-60’s, so perhaps 20 years prior to his experience in the Lion’s Den as recorded in chapter 6. Chapter 7 fits chronologically between chapters 4 and 5 in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign as co-regent with his father Nabonidus.
The first thing Daniel saw in this vision was a great sea being churned up by the four winds of heaven. The “sea” in prophecy almost always stands for the nations, and the “winds” represent the various forces which move upon the nations, generally bringing strife and trouble. That the four winds—north, south, east, and west—all come at the same time, quite contrary to nature, indicates that God Himself is stirring them up.
The four beasts are clearly four kingdoms—Daniel explicitly says so in verse 17. Although he does not name them here, it seems that they refer to the same four kingdoms revealed in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue in chapter 2.
The winged lion probably represents Babylon. The lion is the king of beasts, while the eagle is the king of the birds. Eagle wings on a lion suggest power equipped with speed and the capacity for effective action. This fits well with the fact that Nebuchadnezzar struck against his enemies with lightning quickness and within a few short years, was able to build Babylon into the first truly world-wide empire. Interestingly, statues of winged lions have been recovered from the ruins of Babylon, believed to have been used by Nebuchadnezzar himself to represent his nation.
However, the wings of this lion-beast are torn off, suggesting that the former royal capacity is lost. You will remember from chapter 4 that Nebuchadnezzar went insane and lived like a beast for seven years. Afterwards, however, he was elevated to his former position. The experience changed him spiritually and he became much more of a benevolent ruler, corresponding perhaps to the symbolism of the lion being humanized, as noted at the end of verse 4.
The vision of this first beast does not constitute prophecy from the standpoint of Daniel. He has been living under Babylonian sovereignty for close to fifty years. However, the second beast in the vision is prophetic.
The lopsided bear with three ribs in its teeth probably represents the Medo-Persian Empire, which succeeded Babylon when Cyrus defeated Belshazzar (perhaps 15 years after Daniel receives this vision). We know from both secular history and the Bible that the Medo-Persian army was strong and fierce, but unlike the lion, which possesses a royal grace, the bear is ponderous and ungainly in its movements. In this sense the Medo-Persian Empire was inferior to the kingdom of Babylon.
Daniel also saw that the bear was lopsided—apparently an indication that the union between the Persians and the Medes was not an equal one. The fact is the Persians were greater and stronger than the Medes and eventually absorbed them into the Persian culture and political system. The three ribs between the bear’s teeth seem to be representative of conquests, coinciding possibly with the Persian defeat of Babylonia, Lydia, and Egypt. The message to this second beast–“Get up and eat your fill of flesh!”—stresses conquest, and Medo-Persia did, in fact, take over far more territory than did Babylon.
The four-headed leopard with four wings probably represents the Greek empire. The outstanding characteristics of the leopard are agility, speed, and an insatiable thirst for blood, all of which fits the Greek empire which followed the Persian. The presence of wings on the back of the leopard draws special attention to the swiftness with which it attacks and devours its enemies. Under Alexander the Great, the borders of Greece were enlarged enormously and with remarkable speed. By the time he died of a fever at 32 years of age, Alexander had conquered the civilized world from Macedonia to Africa and eastward to India. It is said that he then wept because there was no more territory to conquer.
Because the four heads of the leopard are mentioned after the wings, and since heads in Scripture normally represent governments, it seems logical to conclude that this is a reference to the fact that upon Alexander’s premature death, his empire was divided among four of his generals:
Casander was placed over the home territory of Greece and Macedonia;
Lysimachus over Thrace and a large part of Asia Minor;
Seleucus over Syria and much of the Middle East;
and Ptolemy over Egypt.
This interpretation is actually made explicit in chapter 8:22, as we will see in three weeks.
The indescribable beast with ten horns, almost certainly represents the Roman Empire and the Western nations that grew out of it. This beast is not likened to any known animal. It is different from all the former beasts, particularly in regard to its cruelty and brutality. This fits well the historical picture of Rome, as a nation which slaughtered or enslaved the people it conquered and followed a scorched-earth policy to prevent its subject peoples from ever rebelling.
Daniel’s vision declares that the world would be run by a succession of fearsome monsters that will go from bad to worse, each one more frightening than the one before. Please note that only four beasts emerge from the sea prior to the time when the Ancient of Days hands out judgment and the everlasting kingdom of God is instituted. This hints that there will not be a fifth world empire. There have been those who have tried—Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin. All failed and all will fail.
However, in a sense the seeds of the Roman Empire live on in other nations. When the Roman Empire was conquered in the fifth century A.D., individual nations, not a fifth world empire, arose from its ruins. These western nations have remained divided to this day, but at some time in the future will ten of these nations lock arms politically, economically, and militarily, forming a revived or realigned Roman Empire? Or is the reference to “ten” merely symbolic?
Whether or not the present alignment we see in the European Union constitutes a possible fulfillment of this prophecy, or is merely a preview of that final coalition, I do not know. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the stage is set so that the final events could unfold very quickly. The most important of those final details, and the issue that fascinated Daniel the most, is the emergence of a little horn among the ten horns of the fourth beast. Most conservative biblical scholars agree that …
The little horn represents the Antichrist. Antichrist is the name the book of 1 John gives to the final world dictator. He is also called “the man of sin,” “the man of lawlessness,” and “the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2). He will become the leading ruler of that time, possibly having displaced three rulers, thereby gaining leadership over the rest. Here in verse 25, it adds that “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time.” The changing of set times and laws may be a reference to his abandonment of long-held moral, social, and religious principles and practices.
Blasphemy against God and the persecution of God’s people will be key characteristics of Antichrist’s rule. I believe this persecution will include both God’s chosen people, the Jews, and His redeemed people, Christians. It will involve constant harassment, injustice, seizure of property, and outright physical persecution.
The final world dictator will not only be characterized by lawlessness but also by boastfulness, according to verse 8. He will have outstanding ability, and he will know it and boast of it, vaunting himself against God and even claiming to be greater than God (see Daniel 11:36).
At first this final world dictator will enjoy great success through deception. Even many saints will be deceived into thinking he is their friend. Then he will turn on them, and for a period of three and a half years will do everything in his power, i.e., everything that God allows, to destroy them. That period of time, mentioned at the end of verse 25, corresponds, I believe, to the last half of the seven-year Tribulation described in Rev. 11 and 13. It is further addressed in Daniel 9. Look at 9:27:
“He (Antichrist) will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple, he will set up an abomination that causes desolation until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.
Obviously, things look very dark as Daniel describes the little horn. However, in verse 9 and again in verse 26 (which constitutes the interpretation of verses 9ff), we are informed that the final world dictator does not have the last say.
The intervention of the Ancient of Days
Beginning in verse 9 we see a drama unfolding in heaven. It begins with
The courtroom. Look again at the description in verse 9:
“Thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days (this is clearly a name for God for the Father) took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”
This scene speaks of the absolute sovereignty of God as creator, sustainer, and ruler of the universe. We won’t try to elaborate on all the details of the scene, but it is obvious that there is an emphasis upon holiness, majesty, power, and awesomeness. The white hair speaks of His purity and perhaps. The fire and blazing wheels represent God’s power to destroy His enemies. So, He has the wisdom to sort out right from wrong, the purity to choose the right, and the power to enforce His judgments. The countless beings who are worshiping the Father are undoubtedly the angels, joined probably by those believers who have died and have received their heavenly reward, as well as those who have just been raptured.
The mention of books is of special interest.
The books. The Bible speaks frequently of books kept by God in connection with the status of men on earth. Allow me to read a brief portion of Rev. 20, which has some remarkable parallels to Daniel 7. I begin with verse 11:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Once again, we are in God’s throne room and court is being held. The defendants are being judged, not by hearsay or from memory, but from “the books.” These are apparently books which record the evil deeds of the wicked. Here, as in Daniel 7, those judged are thrown into the blazing fire.
I will suggest to you that the thought of God keeping a record of every evil deed is frightening; in fact, it is devastating. There is hope, however, for the Revelation passage indicates that there is another book, called “the Book of Life.” The Bible indicates that one can avoid being judged by what is in the books by getting his name into the Book. The last sentence of the Revelation passage offers a hint that God double-checks the Book of Life to make sure the defendant’s names have not been overlooked. Of course, such an idea is only for our benefit, because an omniscient God would never have to double-check anything.
Is your name in the Book of Life? If it is, then you will never have to stand before that Great White Throne Judgment and you will never face the Lake of Fire. Well, how can you know for sure? Friends, names are written in the Book of Life, not with chalk or with ink, but with blood. Not your blood, but the blood of Christ. When you renounce your own righteousness, which is really no righteousness at all, and put your faith and trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who died for you and paid the penalty for your sin, then and only then is your name written in the Book.
We have considered the court, the books, and now the judgment.
The judgment here in Daniel 7 focuses not just upon the final world dictator, but also upon the fourth beast, who is slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. The book of Revelation indicates that this happens at the time of the great Battle of Armageddon.
There’s an interesting parenthesis in verse 12. It says, “The other beasts (I assume he means the first three empires) had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.” This sets up a contrast between the demise of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Greek empires and the destruction of the revived form of the Roman empire. Whereas elements of the culture of the first three empires were absorbed into each succeeding empire, this will not happen with the ten-nation confederacy in the last days. That ten-nation confederacy will be utterly and completely destroyed at the Battle of Armageddon, and the Kingdom of Christ which will be ushered in will incorporate nothing from it. Which brings us fourthly to …
The kingdom of “one like a son of man.” Daniel says in verse 13,
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Jesus often used the term “son of man” to refer to Himself. There are also many Scriptural prophecies which speak of His Second Coming as from the clouds of heaven. The theme of His exaltation is reiterated in Phil. 2:9-11:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”
The fact that the saints will reign with Christ is also clearly stated in Daniel 7:27:
“Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.”
And thus the vision ends. However, it is not the end of the matter for us. What would God have us learn and apply from such a prophecy? I would like to suggest three things:
The vision for us
Since the prophecy of the four world empires has come true exactly as predicted, we can have confidence that the details of the revived fourth empire will also come to pass. There are many evangelicals who gloss over the prophecies of the rapture, the Antichrist, the Tribulation, the Battle of Armageddon, and the millennial Kingdom, suggesting that none of these things are to be fulfilled literally. Rather they are all figurative of the temptations, trials, and triumphs facing the Church or individual Christians. Even the regathering of the State of Israel, which has happened during my lifetime, is viewed by many of our fellow evangelicals as an historical accident without prophetic significance. They believe the only Kingdom we will ever see is the spiritual Kingdom of Christ dwelling in the hearts of men.
Some of these believe in what is called “replacement theology.” That is, the Church has replaced Israel as the people of God, so there is no future left for Israel, and there should be no expectation of earthly promises, such as those God made to Israel. This is becoming a popular theological system in our day and time. But I do not believe it can answer the problem of Romans 9-11, where Paul specifically denies that God is through with Israel. At the same time, I do not accept Dispensationalism’s total bifurcation of the church and Israel.
The prophecies which have already been fulfilled have been fulfilled literally, and with amazing detail and accuracy. Why should prophecies of Christ’s first coming be so literal but prophecies of His Second Coming be so figurative? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Now I would be the first to admit that I do not understand all the prophecies about the end times. There are things we will not understand until we are in the middle of it or perhaps even until it is over. After all, despite all the specific prophecies of Jesus’ first coming almost no one was expecting Him when He arrived, and the vast majority refused to recognize Him. I suspect something similar will happen when He comes again.
Our God is the sovereign Lord of history. He knows the end from the beginning. There are no surprises to Him. When He reveals prophetic truth, we can have confidence that it will happen just as He says. Sure, there are some Bible teachers who go off the deep end and try to nail down the significance of every last detail and try to find significance in every last symbol. They can be dogmatic and even divisive if you don’t happen to buy into their particular version of the end-times. I’m not interested in that.
However, the broad strokes of prophetic truth are sufficiently clear that we should pay attention to them, learn them, and live in the confidence that they will take place.
The God who has mapped out our future is certainly able to handle the present. I started out talking about the pessimism I have concerning government, politics, international relations, the culture, the economy, and education in our country. Add to that the terrible wave of child abuse, violent crime, drug addiction, gang activity, divorce, unwed pregnancies, illegal immigration, and the sorry state of families which we see all around us. Frankly, it’s enough to make one despair and wonder if things are not totally out of control.
I’m here to say they are not. I think what we are seeing is the playing out of Romans 1, where it says of those who were no more pagan than many in our culture,
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools … Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity of the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…. Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity….” (Romans 1:21-29)
Depressing? Certainly. It sounds like Paul has been watching prime-time TV. But our God—the same One who has mapped out our future—is able to help us cope and even triumph in the middle of such wickedness. We do not have to give in to despair or participate in the sin. We have the power of Almighty God promised to us in the Person of His Holy Spirit.
Although the future may look bleak, God is still in control and has great plans for His children. (Jer. 29:11) Over and beyond the raging torment of the sea of humanity, Daniel saw the throne of the living God. We must see it as well. The future does not look very bright on the human level, but the study of prophecy gives me an underlying optimism and a strong motivation to stay involved in the culture, but not because I believe I can do much to rescue a society that is caught in a deadly moral whirlpool. The culture can’t be rescued, but I know that individuals in this society can be. To the extent we are able to maintain a witness for truth and righteousness, to that extent we will continue to be beacons of light and safety, and names will continue to be recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
I close with this verse from the Book of Jeremiah, spoken by the prophet, a contemporary of Daniel, to a group of survivors of the Babylonian captivity:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’”
That was God’s Word to the exiles 2500 years ago. I believe He offers a similar word of hope to us today.
DATE: September 18, 1994
Purpose of prophecy
Book of Life