Daniel’s supernatural gift was the ability to interpret visions and dreams. Several interpretations were in regard to immediate revelations from God, like Nebuchadnezzar’s tree dream and Belshazzar’s handwriting on the wall vision. Others were intermediate in nature, like the revelation concerning the Messiah. Still others were eschatological in nature, pointing to the end of days.
Nebuchadnezzar’s statue dream in Daniel 2 revealed four major empires that would arise in anticipation of the Messiah. Conservative evangelicals, who recognize Daniel to be a historical figure from the time of the exile, usually understand these four kingdoms to be Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Edward J. Young and Stephen Miller are among commentators who interpret Daniel’s dream in Chapter 7 to be another prophetic revelation of these historical empires dreamt by Nebuchadnezzar.
Three Beasts (1–6)
Daniel’s dream included beasts that represented empires and horns that represented kings. The first three kingdoms were a lion, a bear and a leopard. The lion had feet and a mind like a man. He also had wings like an eagle, until the wings were torn off. The bear fed on ribs, and it was told to gorge on meat. The leopard had four heads and four wings, and it was granted authority.
One of the key rules of biblical interpretation is for Scripture to interpret itself (see “Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics: Exposition”). Often, prophetic passages provide at least some immediate explanation as to their meaning. As Daniel sought understanding about the dream, he asked for clarification from the revealer of dreams. “So He let me know the interpretation of these things: ‘These huge beasts, four in number, are four kings who will rise up from the earth’ ” (vv. 16–17).
The Fourth Beast and the Horn (7–8)
The fourth beast was not characterized like other creatures. This beast “had large iron teeth” (v. 7) and “bronze claws” (v. 19), human eyes, a mouth that spoke arrogantly and ten horns. Three of those horns were then uprooted by a little horn that grew and stood in their place. The ten horns represent ten kings, with the little horn (another king) overthrowing three kings (vv. 23–24).
In the forty years since I was saved by God’s grace, I have seen “experts” interpret biblical prophecy through the eyes of current events. They made confident assertions who these ten kings were. Some said they were member nations of the Soviet Union, or the United Nations or the European Union, or most recently, a confederation of Islamic states. With each claim came an explanation that the little horn was the rising Antichrist.
Each generation of Jews and Christians has had its prognosticators connecting these kings and kingdoms to their own eras. Which ruler will “speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones” and “intend to change religious festivals and laws” (v. 25)? Even in the days of Jesus, Jews were anticipating the coming of the Messiah, who would rid Israel of their Roman oppressors and fulfill the Davidic covenant to establish an everlasting Kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:32–33; Acts 1:6).
The Judgment (9–14)
God will judge the nations, and He will be glorified in His judgment upon the Antichrist who fulfills Old and New Testament prophecies. God the Father is the “Ancient of Days,” and Jesus is “one like the Son of Man” to whom was given dominion over “every people, nation and language” (vv. 13–14).
Far too often, the focus of end-time Bible study is an attempt to discern who the contemporary Antichrist is or at what point Christians will escape the terror at the end of days. Rather than focusing on our Rescuer and Sovereign Ruler, we look for our own relief. Peter explained that Christ has not yet returned because God is still saving the lost (2 Pet. 3:9). Let us join Him in the work by making disciples of all nations until Jesus returns!
By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Wilson is dean of Christian Studies at University of Mobile in Alabama.