I’d like us to look at two particular chapters in the book of Daniel for a few reasons.
Suppose I were to say to a young married couple, “In two years you’re going to have a baby girl. She’ll be blond and at a very young age she will become a world famous singer. Then 2 years later you will have twin boys. They’ll be born two months premature, but don’t worry about it, they’ll be fine. One will grow up to be a doctor and the other will grow up to be a dentist.” A normal young couple probably wouldn’t take me seriously. They’d probably think I’m loony if I were to describe their future like that. But what if in two years they have a blond baby girl, and then two years later they have twin boys two months premature, and then while the little girl is in elementary school they discover that she has a remarkable singing voice and she becomes world famous on that show “America’s Got Talent,” and everything is playing out exactly as I said that it would? Well, then they wouldn’t so much think I’m loony, and they’d start to take me seriously when I say that something is going to happen. That’s one of the reasons I’d like us to look at these two chapters in Daniel. They are a couple chapters that predict the future, and we can look at what has happened since the time they were written and see that world history has been playing out exactly as these chapters predicted. So they are a couple chapters that demonstrate that we ought to take God seriously when He says that something is going to happen.
Also, I want us to look at these chapters, because I want you to know that God is in control. These chapters demonstrate the sovereignty of God. The world can seem to me at times, I don’t know about you, to be kind of chaotic. When I turn on the news and see what’s happening in the world, all the crime, catastrophes, the turmoil in the Middle East, the suicide bombings in Pakistan, another bombing in New York, leaders of nations who seem kind of mentally unstable possessing nuclear weapons and you’re not sure if they might just do something crazy and send us into WWIII. But these chapters assure us that the Lord has got this. The Lord is in control. Things will play out as He’s planned and for His good purposes.
And another reason I’d like us to look at these two chapters is because they provide much of the background for a lot of New Testament Scripture. Many NT Scriptures are based on, at least partially, and understood through these chapters. If we understand these chapters it prepares us to understand some NT passages that would otherwise be more obscure. What did Jesus mean when He spoke of the kingdom of God? What’s the significance of Jesus calling Himself “the Son of Man” all the time? What is that 10 horned beast that comes up out of the sea that speaks blasphemous and arrogant words and makes war with saints in the book of Revelation? What’s all that about? Well, those NT passages have their background in these two chapters of Daniel that we’re going to look at.
Nebuchanezzar’s Dream of the Great Four Segment Statue and the Stone (Daniel 2)
Around 600 B.C. the world ruler, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, had troubling dreams one night. He kept dreaming the same dream over and over. It was troubling because he recognized that this was no ordinary dream. This dream had been placed in his mind by a supernatural power, and he didn’t understand the meaning of it. So he called for the magicians, conjurers, sorcerers, astrologers, all those who were thought to have sort of an inside connection with deity. They were brought before Nebuchadnezzar and he said, “I had a dream and I’m anxious to understand what it means.” They said, “No problem! You got it! Just tell us the dream and we’ll tell you what it means.” But Nebuchadnezzar was no dummy. He knew that these guys could just make up an interpretation that sounded good and he wouldn’t know if it was the right interpretation or not. So clever but cruel king Nebuchadnezzar said, “No, you first tell me what I dreamed and then give me the interpretation of it, so I know that you’re really in touch with the gods and you’re giving me the right interpretation and not just a made up one, and you will richly rewarded and greatly honored. But if you can’t do that, then I’ll conclude that you’re a bunch lying phonies, and you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap.” They pleaded with the king not to make such an impossible demand of them. But their pleading just infuriated Nebuchadnezzar and he gave orders that, not just these guys, but all the wise men of Babylon be put to death.
Young Daniel, maybe 19 or early 20s, and his three Jewish friends fell into that category of “wise men”. So their lives were in danger. Daniel asked the captain who came to arrest them for their upcoming execution, “For what reason are we to be put to death?” When he learned the reason, he asked for a word with the king and was allowed. He came before king Nebuchadnezzar and asked for just a little time that perhaps he may be able to tell the king his dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar granted his request. Daniel went and told his three friends to start praying that God will have compassion on them and save them. And then that night God came through and revealed to Daniel the king’s dream and its interpretation. Daniel thanked and praised God and then told the officers of the king to wait on killing the wise men, because he knew the king’s dream and its meaning. So he was brought before the king. The king said, “Are you able to make known to me my dream and its interpretation?” Daniel said, “Well, no man is able to do that. But there is a God in heaven who has told me all about it. This God in heaven has given you this dream and it’s about what will take place in the future.” And then Daniel proceeded to describe in great detail to Nebuchadnezzar what he dreamed.
He explained how in his dream he saw this huge magnificent awesome statue. There were four segments to the statue, each made of a different kind of metal, and the order of the different metals from head to toe decreased in value and glory and yet increased in strength and hardness. The head was fine gold. The breast and arms were silver. The belly and thighs were bronze. And the legs and feet were iron, but the feet were also partly mixed with clay. Then Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “And then you saw a stone, this least precious of all items, a rock, cut out of the mountain without hands. And it came and struck the statue in its feet of iron and clay, crushing them. Then the whole statue crumbled into pieces and the wind blew away the pieces like chaff and not a trace of the statue was left; there was the stone. And stone grew bigger and bigger until it became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.” Nebuchadnezzar must have been absolutely astonished. That was exactly what he dreamed. So now he knows the Daniel has been in touch with a god and that his interpretation of the dream will be right.
Then Daniel said, “Now, here’s the interpretation. The four different segments of the statue are four different consecutive kingdoms that will arise and rule over the earth. The head of gold is you O king Nebuchadnezzar and your kingdom. God has given it to you to rule the world for a while and have all this glory that you have. But then the breast and arms of silver represent another kingdom that will take over yours. Your empire will be conquered by another, and it won’t be as glorious and rich, like silver compared to gold.” That second kingdom that took over the Babylonian empire we know historically and from later in the book of Daniel was the Medo-Persian Empire. Then the bronze segment represents a third kingdom that will take over the second. We know historically that’s the kingdom of Greece. The identification of these 2nd and 3rd kingdoms is confirmed in another vision later in the book of Daniel that figures them respectively as a ram and a shaggy goat. There these kingdom are specifically named. 8:20-21, “The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia. The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece…”). So Greece is the next kingdom after Medo-Persia. And then the bottom segment of the statue, the legs of iron and feet of iron and clay, is a fourth kingdom that would conquer the third. We know it was the Roman empire that conquered the Grecian empire. And Daniel explains that it’s represented with iron because it will crush and shatter its enemies like iron crushes and shatters things, and it will have the toughness of iron. But it’s feet will be mixed with some clay, because it will be a divided kingdom and have internal brittleness. If you know some about the history of Rome and its fall, you probably know that it’s fall was much due to internal difficulties and weaknesses. Weak emperors, generals competing for power, civil wars, economic crises, government overspending, inability of the working class to support the army and the upper classes’ extravagant lifestyles. All these internal problems made the Roman kingdom weak and vulnerable to the Germanic tribes to the north who came against them in the 5th century, the Goths and Vandals.
Now, none of these empires were threatening at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The Medes and the Persians were just little areas in his empire. The Greeks were just wandering tribes. Rome was just an insignificant village on the banks of the Tiber River. Yet God knew that these unknowns would rise as world dominating empires. Nothing surprises God in His world. He knows everything that’s going to happen.
Then Daniel says this about the stone in the dream. Daniel 2:44, “In the days of those kings [meaning in the days of the fourth world empire from Babylon, in the days of the Roman empire] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” So according to what Daniel said there, there should be a kingdom today, an empire that was established back in the days of the Roman Empire, it’s an empire close to 2000 years old. And this kingdom with its king were responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. What kingdom is that? Some of you know. But let’s get some more information about it in Daniel 7.
Daniel’s Dream of the Four Great Beasts and the Son of Man (Daniel 7)
Daniel 7 tells us about a dream that Daniel himself had about same kingdoms represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, but Daniel had this dream near 50 years later and the imagery is different and more details are revealed to Daniel than were to Nebuchadnezzar. Now, I’m not going to follow the order of the chapter where the dream itself is described first and then the interpretation is given in the second half. We’re going to look at the interpretation as we look at the dream. I think that will help me cover this more quickly.
7:2-3, “Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another.”
Now, when Daniel is given the interpretation of this by an angel, the angel tells him, 7:17, “These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth.” But that’s not “four kings” in the sense of just four individual men that will arise and rule over the earth, but four world ruling empires that will arise on the earth. 7:23, “The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth…” So world dominating kingdoms are the idea. We have four kingdoms in this vision just like in the Daniel 2 vision.
The first beast to come out of the sea was like a lion with the wings of an eagle (7:4). The prophet Jeremiah would picture Babylon as a lion. For instance Jeremiah 4:7, “A lion has gone up from his thicket, And a destroyer of nations has set out; He has gone out from his place To make your land a waste. Your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.” And it’s interesting that lions and winged lions were common symbols in Babylonian walls and gates and sculptures.
Then Daniel saw the wings of this lion be plucked from it, and the lion was made to stand on two feet like a man and a human mind was given to it. I think that’s probably an allusion to what happened to king Nebuchadnezzar. Remember how God humbled Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogant heart in Daniel 4, as he was walking on the roof of his palace, looking out over the capital of his empire and he said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time [or years] will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’” And immediately Nebuchadnezzar was literally driven away from mankind. He was made insane. He lived out in the wilderness, ate grass like cattle, his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, his hair grew long, and his finger nails and toe nails grew long. He was like that for 7 years. Then his sanity was restored, and he learned his lesson and raised his eyes toward heaven and praised and honored God and acknowledged that God rules the kingdoms of men and it was God who made him great. And so he was given the mind of a man again. And I think that’s what’s being alluded to in Daniel’s vision as he sees this lion made to walk and think like a man.
Then the second beast resembled a bear (7:5), an appropriate symbol for the Medo-Persian empire. A bear is less regal than a lion, and they’re big and ponderous, but very strong. That was Medo-Perisa, ponderous and strong. Xerxes led an army of 2 1/2 million soldiers. Huge, slow, but great strength. Often Persia conquered people without even a battle. Their enemies would yield just at the sight of their appearance on the horizon. In the vision this bear is raised up on one side, likely to represent the fact that the Persians rose to dominance over the Medes in this dual alliance. This point is also implied in Daniel 8:3 where the ram with the two horns, representing the Medo-Persian Empire, has one horn longer than the other. It represents the fact that the Persians were the more prominent of the two allies. And Daniel says between its teeth were three ribs, perhaps representing the three nations they conquered – Lydia, Babylon and Egypt. This 2nd beast in the vision is told to, “Arise and devour much meat!” And Medo-Persia did devour or conquer much.
Then the 3rd beast is like a four headed leopard with four wings (7:6), a very fitting symbol for the Grecian empire. Leopards were known for their swiftness. They’re swift even without wings, but how much more if they had 4 wings. The speed at which the Greek ruler, Alexander the Great, conquered was astonishing. In eleven short years he conquered all parts of the world he knew and it’s said that he then fell down on his bed weeping that there was no more world to conquer. Soon afterward he died at the age of 33. The four heads of this leopard probably represents the fact that Alexander’s empire was divided up among his four generals after his death, Seleucus, Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus.
Then the 4th beast Daniel can’t even think of an animal to liken it to. He says it was just dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong (7:7). It had iron teeth, like the iron legs of the bottom section of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. At 7:23 Daniel begins to get the explanation of this critter. “The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it.”
Now, this 4th beast had ten horns, and Daniel knew that the ten horns represented something, and he was contemplating them, and then 7:8, “While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.” So an 11th horn comes out and pushes 3 horns out of its way as it comes forth. And this horn has eyes and a mouth like a man, and he’s spouting out very arrogant boastful words. Mr. Big Mouth we might call this 11th horn. That’s just a summary of what Daniel saw. He gives some more detail later in the chapter. Mr. Big Mouth became bigger than all the other horns. Then, 7:21, Daniel says, “I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them…” So Mr. Big Mouth is trying to destroy the saints, which means simply the holy ones, that’s God’s people I think. And it’s looks like Mr. Big Mouth is succeeding somewhat in destroying God’s people. Now, Daniel gets some explanation of this. 7:24, “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. ” So the horns are kings of this fourth kingdom. If we’re right in our interpretation that this fourth beast is the Roman empire then it appears these horns are Roman emperors. And the eleventh one subdued three. Now, look at this list of the of the first eleven Roman emperors. You notice the three emperors that I put in red that died in the year 69. Those are probably the three horns that were uprooted. They were quickly removed as they became emperors for a new family to begin to reign call the Flavian family, Vespasian the father, then Titus and Domitian his sons. And notice the 11th emperor, Domitian. He fits perfectly the description of the 11th horn, boastful, arrogant, blasphemous, wages war with the saints.
Let me read to you some stuff that an ancient Roman historian named Suetonius wrote about this 11th emperor, Domitian, writing in the early 2nd century.
“From his earliest years Domitian was far from affable, indeed consistently discourteous and presumptuous in word and deed… On his accession Domitian did not scruple to boast to the Senate of having conferred the imperial power on [his father] Vespasian and [his brother] Titus – they had now merely returned it to him! He also spoke of his action in taking [his wife] Domitia back, after the divorce, as “a recall to my divine bed”; and on the day of his public banquet delighted to hear the audience in the Colosseum shout: ‘Long live our Lord and Lady!” (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars).
Suetonius went on to say that Domitian sent out a letter which began, “Our Lord and God instructs you to do this!” This man made himself out to be a god. He is Mr. Big Mouth.
7:25 says about him, “He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” Domitian made Christianity illegal in the Roman Empire and began severe persecution against them. He was the first emperor to persecute those who would not acknowledge his divinity. He was the one who really made “alterations in times and in law” against the saints. From what I understand there were times in many towns and cities throughout the Roman Empire that a group of Roman soldiers and these official people would come in, bringing the bust or statue of the emperor, and they would line up the population and force them to pour out a libation or burn a pinch of incense and proclaim Caesar to be a god, or be killed. The book of Revelation was written (I think) toward the end of the reign of Domitian when that kind of thing was beginning to happen. And in Revelation 13 there’s this dreadful terrifying beast that comes up out of the sea that speaks out arrogant words and wages war with the saints, and guess how many horns he has? He has 10 horns (Rev 13:1-7). And guess how long he is allowed to wear down the saints? Same amount of time (Rev 13:5). It’s referred to in Revelation 3 ways (Rev 11:2,3; 12:14; 13:5), sometimes as “a time, times and half a time” (1 + 2 + 1/2, which is 3 1/2, and years is the idea, 3 1/2 years), or 42 months or 1260 days. It’s not a number to be taken literally, I don’t think, but refers to the period of time the Roman Empire was allowed to make war with the church. So it’s a very similar critter in the book of Revelation, and it’s picturing the same evil force – the Roman empire.
So these visions so far take Daniel to the time when the church was young and under the extreme Roman persecution. But remember in Daniel 2 it said that God is going to set up a kingdom during the time of the Roman empire, that will destroy the Roman empire and that will grow to fill the earth and will never be destroyed. And Daniel gets some more information about that.
Judgment of the Fourth Beast
7:9, “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat [The OT often pictures council meetings taking place in heaven. The Ancient of Days takes His seat I think among all His highest ranking angels.]; His vesture was like white snow [perhaps symbolizing totally purity] And the hair of His head like pure wool [perhaps symbolizing His great wisdom]. His throne was ablaze with flames [symbolizing His incredible power to deal with evil, to punish], Its wheels were a burning fire [like in Ezekiel’s visions of the throne of God. It has wheels, it’s like a chariot throne. It’s mobile, suggesting God is not confined to one area]. A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened.” It was common in ancient times for records to be kept of the deeds and events of kings and their kingdoms (I Kgs 14:19, 29; Ezra 4:15; Esther 2:23; 6:1; 10:2). I think that’s the idea. The heavenly court is going to open the books of the deeds of this kingdom and deal with this kingdom according to its deeds.
7:11, “I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning.” Same thing that happens in the book of Revelation to this beast (Rev 19:20).
7:22 explains, “… and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One…” In Revelation 6 the souls of Christians who have been killed in heaven saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And they’re told to just wait a little while longer. Daniel foresees the end of their wait.
v26, “… the court will sit for judgment, and his [the fourth beast’s] dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever.” So Daniel is seeing that the Roman Empire will be judged by God and destroyed.
Now, what about that eternal kingdom that God was supposed to set up during the days of the Roman Empire? Well, Daniel is given a vision of the king of that everlasting kingdom.
The King of the Eternal Kingdom
7:13-14, “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”
Riding on the clouds of heaven is language used many times in the OT, but it’s always used of God. But here this one like a Son of Man is the cloud rider. And notice He’s not coming on the clouds to earth. He’s coming on the clouds before the Ancient of Days in heaven. The king, our king, the ruler of the world today, is not on earth. He’s in heaven. And you know who that is. That’s the Lord Jesus who ascended to the right hand of the Father. He’s the king still today and people of every nationality are His servants and His empire will never be destroyed.
Now, Daniel sees that not only will there be this one like a Son of Man in heaven that will reign, but also there will be…
“Saints” who will Reign with Him
They are pictured as coming to power when the fourth beast is destroyed. Listen to these verses. 7:21-22, “I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.” 7:26-27, “But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.” How awesome is that?! Did you know that Christians are ruling the world today along with the Lord Jesus? You just can’t see it, because they’re not on earthly thrones; they’re not in presidential offices on earth. But Christians are ruling with the Lord Jesus, and that’s what Daniel was getting a vision of.
Jesus told his disciples, “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30). I think the apostles are part of the governors of the world today with Jesus.
“He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; 27 AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father” (Rev 2:26-27). When Christians are faithful til death as Jesus was, then they are given authority over the nations as Jesus was given authority over the nations. They go to reign with Christ.
“He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev 3:21). As Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father when His work on earth was done, it sounds like we get to sit down at the right hand of Christ when our work on earth is done.
In Revelation 20 John recalls a vision he was given concerning the souls of Christians who have died and their condition during the period of time between the destruction of the beast, the Roman Empire, and the final judgment at the end of the world. It’s pictured as a thousand year period of time. Like most all the numbers in the book of Revelation it’s a symbolic number, it just means, I think, a complete age of time. Listen to what John said that he saw, Rev 20:4, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God [these are Christian martyrs], and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image… and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” That’s this age of time I believe, after the fall of the beast (Rome) and before the great judgement day (Rev 20:11ff). And Christians who have departed this world are ruling this world along with their Savior.
Do you see that when we die, if we’re faithful followers of Christ, we don’t go to simply float around on clouds and play harps? The glory that awaits us on the other side of death’s dark door is far beyond what we have imagined. We go to be with king Jesus. We are made part of the royal court. We “eat and drink at the King’s table”. We are given positions of authority over this earth. We get some say in what is done on earth. We rule the world with king Jesus.
Do you see the empire that rules the world today that was established in the days of the Roman Empire? It’s centered in heaven, the king, the Lord Jesus, and the governors and officials are in heaven, but many citizens are here on earth all over the world. And this empire will never be destroyed. And one day God will make a new heavens and a new earth for this empire to live in (II Pt 3:13), and they will live and reign forever and ever (Rev 22:5). You need to be in that kingdom, and you can choose to be as long as you are still on this earth by choosing to submit yourself and your life to the Lord Jesus.
– James Williams