Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 20 2019 - Daniel 7 – Dream of the four beasts

Daniel chapter 7 takes us back before the events of the previous two chapters to "the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon" (v. 1). This time it is Daniel who has a dream and Daniel's face that turns pale as he considers it.

In some ways, Daniel's dream is similar to Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue with a head of gold, upper body of silver, abdomen of bronze and legs of iron with feet of iron and clay. But in Daniel's vision, instead of seeing the succession of coming world empires as four deteriorating parts of an unstable colossus, he saw them as a series of four filthy and cruel beasts, arising out of the sea – a symbol of chaos. These beasts seem to be marked by increasing cruelty, each preying on its predecessor and destroying humanity. The fourth and final beast is truly terrifying: whatever escapes it great iron teeth is trampled to death by its feet.

Most interpreters see these beasts as representing the same kings or kingdoms as the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The lion represents Babylon, and the wings being plucked off represent the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar. The bear represents Medo-Persia, with the stronger Persian component being the side that was raised up. The leopard represents Alexander the Great and his speedy conquest of the civilised world, and the four heads represent the division of his kingdom into four parts after his death. The final, terrifying beast represents the Roman Empire.

This apocalyptic vision must remind us of similar visions found in the Book of Revelation – or rather, we should say that the Book of Revelation contains visions which echo those found in this and subsequent chapters in Daniel.

At the heart of Daniel's vision is a view into the court of heaven (vv. 9ff.). Daniel sees Almighty God, the "Ancient of Days", taking his seat in heaven surrounded with thousands upon thousands who attended him and ten thousand times ten thousand around him (cf. Rev. 5:11). We then read:

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 nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (vv. 13-14)

Jesus refers to these verses when he was tried before the high priest:

The high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ (Mark 14:61-62)

Jesus declares that he is "the Son of Man" of Daniel's vision, indeed, it was a title that he regularly used of himself. It is important that in Daniel's vision, the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days. There he was given authority and sovereign power over all peoples on earth and peoples of every language worshipped him. This is fulfilled in Jesus' ascension into heaven and enthronement at the right hand of the Father where he must reign until all his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. The outpoured Spirit draws people of all languages to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and bow the knee to him. The ultimate fulfilment of these prophecies will be when the risen and ascended Jesus Christ returns in power to reign in manifest glory.

Father God, we are often alarmed at the chaos and violence of the world in which we live. We thank you that Jesus the Messiah is the sovereign ruler of the universe and that every knee will at last bow to him. We gladly acknowledge him as our Lord. Help us by your Spirit to tell the world of Jesus Christ and of the hope we have in him. Use us to draw many to faith in him as Saviour and coming King who will bring in his everlasting kingdom of righteousness and peace.

Peter Misselbrook