We now move to the portion of Daniel’s book that primarily consists of visions and revelations. As previously mentioned, the first six chapters are mostly a historical narrative.
Daniel dates the remarkable revelation he documents in this chapter a few years before the events of chapters 5 and 6. Belshazzar is only in his first year as coregent of Babylon, which the Encyclopedia Britannica dates as circa 550 BC. Daniel, if he had been in his middle to late teens in the year 605 BC — when he was taken to Babylon as a captive — would now be in his 70s.
In chapter 8 — describing an event that happened in the third year of Belshazzar’s reign — Daniel is still in royal service, but not in Babylon. He is in Shushan, also called Susa, which is at the eastern edge of the Babylonian Empire. This city had once been the capital of the powerful Elamite kingdom, but had been sacked and leveled by the Assyrians. It was somewhat rebuilt by Daniel’s time and would eventually become the capital of the Persian Empire under Cyrus’s son Cambyses II.
Cyrus had started his rise to power as king of Anshan, which had been for centuries the second city of the Elamite kingdom until taken over by the Persians. It is intriguing to speculate that Daniel and Cyrus may have become acquainted with each other during Daniel’s stay in Shushan, since it was so close to Persia and was a likely location for any diplomatic activity between Persia and Babylon.
Daniel had been one of the most senior notables in the Babylonian court during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and yet Belshazzar apparently didn’t even know who he was in chapter 5. Perhaps Daniel had been living in Shushan for some time, though he was in Babylon the night Belshazzar was killed as per chapter 5. If so, Daniel may have had the dream described in this chapter 7 while residing in Shushan.
Daniel dreams of four great beasts that form as a result of the winds stirring up the Great Sea. The Great Sea is thought to represent the Mediterranean, which implies that these four beasts are in that general area. But the Great Sea also has a further significance in that it represents the peoples of the world (Revelation 17:15).
Daniel asks a person in his dream what these beasts represent, and he is told that they are four kings, which can also be understood to mean kingdoms.
While God through this heavenly person did not reveal to Daniel the names of these empires (or perhaps, Daniel just did not write them down), Daniel described them in such terms that — as we look at history — it’s easy to see the similarities between the descriptions and the empires that followed. We also have a template to follow with regards to understanding this dream, because it parallels to a large extent the dream that Daniel had interpreted for King Nebuchadnezzar about 50 years before (Daniel 2).
The first of the four beasts was a lion with eagle’s wings. The wings were plucked off, and it stood on its feet and was given a man’s heart. In Daniel chapter 2, the first empire described was Babylon, stated specifically so by Daniel himself. Since Daniel was living in the Babylonian Empire, it would stand to reason that the first beast revealed was likewise Babylon. And as we examine this beast, the connections are apparent. This beast seems to more specifically signify Nebuchadnezzar, who had been a mighty lion-like conqueror but had been abased during his time of madness, and in the end seems to have become a much more humble person (therefore the reference to a “man’s heart”) as evidenced in Daniel chapter 4.
Sculptures of lamassu — winged lions and bulls with human heads — were common in Mesopotamia, of which Babylon was the current master.
The second beast was a bear and corresponds to the silver arms and torso of Daniel 2. Bears are some of nature’s strongest and largest predators. This represents the empire of the federation of the Persians and Medes. The bear was lifted up on one side to indicate the dominance of the Persians. The Persian Empire was to grow into the largest empire known in the Middle East up to that time. It also fielded massive armies and conquered by force of numbers.
The three ribs in its mouth are said to indicate three kingdoms that Persia either conquered or whose territories it inherited. Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, conquered the territory that had previously been ruled by three main empires — Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon — that preceded Persia and had included the lands of Israel and/or Judah as parts of their realms. Another interpretation is that the ribs represented the three main kingdoms he conquered: first Media, second Lydia, and third Babylon.
And the third beast was like a leopard with four wings and four heads. This represents the empire of Alexander the Great and is equivalent to the belly and thighs of bronze in the image of chapter 2. The four wings are understood to represent the swiftness of his conquests, since he swept through Asia Minor, Persia, and to the borders of India in only ten years. The four heads indicate that it wouldn’t remain a single empire for long, as each head pulled its own way to the four corners of the empire. And so it was fulfilled that after Alexander’s death the empire quickly fragmented into separate kingdoms led by either his generals or close advisers, collectively called the Diadochi.
After his death, Alexander’s empire was at first divided into 24 areas. All were nom-inally part of Alexander’s empire, and each paid lip service to a regent who ruled in the name of Alexander’s still unborn son. However, these soon fell into warring amongst themselves. Some parts in the far-eastern reaches of the empire quickly became independent.
Others became large independent kingdoms that expanded at the expense of their neighbors. There were four Wars of the Diadochi that are very confusing to follow, as alliances were continually formed and broken. At one point the map of the former empire crystallized into four major divisions, and these could well have been what the four heads of the leopard represent. These were Macedonia and Greece; the realms of Lysimachus, who ruled Thrace and the western half of Anatolia (now Turkey); the Seleucid empire that covered modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran; and Ptolemaic Egypt. The lands we now know as Palestine and Israel alternated between being ruled by the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, and also had times of independence from both. These four kingdoms assume great importance in the next chapter.
And this brings us to the fourth beast — a dreadful, terrible, strong monster with huge iron teeth and bronze nails that apparently didn’t resemble anything Daniel had seen before, because he couldn’t find the words to liken it to anything.
This represented Rome, the legs of iron in Daniel chapter 2, which for centuries rolled over nearly all of its enemies and ruled the Mediterranean world with an iron fist. One thing that was different about the Roman Empire was that from its founding it suffered almost as many defeats in battle as victories. But after each defeat it regrouped and inexorably began its expansion again. It also was much larger in area and lasted much longer than the previous empires represented by the other beasts in this vision.
And on the fourth beast’s head were ten horns. If you remember, the image in Daniel 2 had ten toes. It is understood that the ten horns and ten toes represent the same ten kingdoms. Ten horns are also found on the final head of a horrible seven-headed beast described in the book of Revelation (chapter 17). There we are told that these ten are ten kings who receive their power from the Antichrist. So if these are the same ten kingdoms, which it seems they are, then these ten horns on this dreadful fourth beast are ten kings or kingdoms that are very closely related to the Antichrist empire in the Endtime. And just like the ten toes in Daniel 2, these ten horns are ten kingdoms that have their roots in the old Roman Empire.
Much of modern-day Europe was once part of the Roman Empire, and therefore there is a case to be made from chapters 2 and 7 of Daniel that these ten kings and kingdoms are Europe based. That would mean that certain European nations form a very important part of the Antichrist’s empire. At least we know that nations which were once part of the Roman Empire will unite with the Antichrist as explained in Revelation chapter 17.
But then an eleventh horn, at first smaller than the others, appears and then grows greater than them all. In this new horn are found the eyes of a man, and he speaks pompous words. Rab-rab, the Aramaic word translated as “pompous” in the New King James Bible, is a doubling of the word rab, meaning captain or leader. Two other meanings of rab-rab are “great” and “domineering.”
In the book of Revelation we are told: “[The Antichrist] was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. ... Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:5–6).
The little horn that became greater than his fellows — and can really signify no other personage than the coming Antichrist — pulls out three of the other ten horns by the roots. It sounds violent.
The leaders of these three kingdoms most likely oppose the Antichrist, and for that they are uprooted from power. The beast in Revelation, however, has all ten horns as the final events of the Endtime unfold, so it follows that the three that are uprooted must be replaced with leaders who are allied to the Antichrist.
While Daniel was watching the beasts he sees a throne room, and then God, the Ancient of Days, is seated on the throne, surrounded by multitudes of attendants. God is dressed in dazzling white robes and His hair is also pure white. This is one of the few descriptions of God in the entire Bible.
Ezekiel wrote that he twice saw God on His throne, and this description in Daniel parallels those in many ways. Ezekiel and Daniel were contemporaries and both lived in Babylonia as exiles.
And if you multiply 10,000 by 10,000, as Daniel described the multitude before God in verse 10, you get 100 million. So there was quite a crowd in this throne room!
And then in the clouds comes the Son of Man. We know this is Jesus because He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” on numerous occasions in the Gospels (in Matthew 8:20; 16:13; Mark 14:62; Luke 9:26; John 13:31 and about 80 more times). The Jews were well versed in their Scriptures, and Jesus at that time was deliberately letting it be known to those listening to Him that He was the Son of Man of the Book of Daniel. Just as He appears in the clouds in this vision, He will also appear in the clouds at His return at His second coming (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:30).
But then as Daniel focuses back on the eleventh horn, to his horror the Antichrist persecutes and makes war against the saints, the people of God, for “a time and times, and half a time.”
We are also told of this war and persecution in Revelation. “[The Antichrist] was given authority to continue for forty-two months. ... It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Revelation 13:5,7). Forty-two months is equal to three and a half years, and so “a time and times and half a time” can be understood as three and a half years.
The length of this period is repeated a number of times throughout the Scriptures, and it covers the time known to us as the Great Tribulation, the second half of the Antichrist’s reign that immediately precedes Jesus’ second coming. It is not a pleasant time on Earth. In a later message given by an angel to Daniel it is described as “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1). A thorough account of what we know about this time is covered in “The Great Tribulation,” chapter 6 of The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist.
The Antichrist not only makes war, but it looks to Daniel as though he is winning the war, prevailing against God’s people. And in the process he intends to change times and laws. Changing laws is straightforward to understand. Dictators have always brought in new laws to reinforce their rule or to oppress their opponents, but what is meant by “changing times” is unclear at this point. The important thing to note is that he is stopped when God judges in favor of the saints. It might seem for a time that the Antichrist is unstoppable as he rages across the world’s stage, but that is only an illusion. God has him in His sights and will only allow him to go so far. The world has seen tyrants before, but admittedly not one as monstrous as this. But like all that have gone before him, he shall meet his doom. King David put it nicely when he wrote:
The wicked plots against the just,
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees that his day is coming. ...
Wait on the Lord,
And keep His way,
And He shall exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
I have seen the wicked in great power,
And spreading himself like a native green tree.
Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
Indeed I sought him, but he could not be found.
Psalm 37:12–13, 34–36
Then the Antichrist is thrown into a fire. Revelation also talks about the Antichrist being thrown into the Lake of Fire when he becomes the big loser at the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:20).
After that the Son of Man was given dominion and glory, and the kingdom, and all on the Earth will serve Him. And not only does Jesus receive the kingdom, but the saints possess it too. (For more on this period of time after the defeat of the Antichrist, read From the End to Eternity.)
Although Daniel tells us that watching this whole ordeal troubled him to the point where he felt and looked very much the worse for it, we can read it and rejoice that the final victory is ours. There will be some very rough and trying times ahead, and for all intents and purposes it may look like we are losing the war much of the time, but in the end we will be victorious!