The Vision of Beasts

April 24, 2022 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Daniel (English 2021)

Topic: English Passage: Daniel 7:1-28

The International Monetary Fund made an announcement this week that financial stability risks are continuing to rise due to pandemic policies, rising inflation, and now the war between Russia and Ukraine. Basically, that means that things might start getting even more expensive than they already have. None of us really know what is going to happen, but that doesn’t stop people from worrying.

Obviously, the people in Russia and Ukraine are experiencing economic effects, but what about the other effects, and what about it spreading to the rest of the world? Early on, some were already saying that this conflict could be the beginning of World War 3. Where is all this headed? What’s going to happen?

In addition to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, we’ve also got our own concerns about life here in our nation. What’s going to happen with our own economy? What’s going to happen with the proliferation of immorality, not only allowed, but demanded by some authorities? Where is this nation going to be in 10 years? Or in 20 years? Or in 50 years?

To some degree, most of us have those kinds of thoughts. Every generation has had them. What is coming next? How is this all going to end? And that’s not just a national question; that’s a global question? What is going to happen with Russia and China and Europe and the rest of the world?

Our passage this morning touches on those kinds of questions. We are now going back to our study in Daniel, and we find ourselves now in chapter 7. Chapters 1 through 6 of Daniel focused on some key stories about Daniel’s exile. Starting in chapter 7, things change a little bit. Our focus is now going to be on visions which God gave Daniel concerning the end of the world.

In this case, the vision came in the form of a dream. We’re going to cover the entire chapter today, so let’s jump in and take a look. Daniel chapter 7, verse 1.

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter.

We met Belshazzar back in chapter 5 of Daniel. If you remember, he was the king partying when Babylon fell to the Persians. He wasn’t the proper king. That was a man named Nabonidus. But Nabonidus abandoned the city of Babylon and left his son in charge. That’s Belshazzar. He was a crown prince.

So, as we come to these visions, we have to back up chronologically because at the end of chapter 6, the Medo-Persians are already in control. We’re backing up to the time when the final king in Babylon came to power. This would be somewhere around 553 B.C.

In accordance with the plan of God, Daniel has a dream and a vision which God uses to reveal something to His people. Verse 2.

Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea.

For an Israelite, “the Great Sea” is normally a reference to the Mediterranean. And that could mean that Daniel was seeing some particular location on the coast of Israel. I believe this indicates that there is some special significance in this vision for the people of Israel. As we’ll see, there implications for the rest of the world as well.

The Jews were not a sea-faring people. They fished, but they didn’t sail across the ocean. The sea, for them, like for some of you, was a fearful and powerful entity. So, this is a fearful dream.

And now, to add to this ominous vision, winds have come from the north and the south and the east and the west. And the sea is being agitated. A storm is coming. Verse 3 continues.

3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

Let’s stop right there and consider what’s happening. To us as readers, I think there is some curiosity and intrigue about this vision. But for Daniel, this wasn’t just a curious vision. This was a terrifying vision. This was a nightmare.

Have you ever had a dream and felt terror come upon you? That’s what Daniel is experiencing. Wild animals are powerful and terrifying. And here we have some beasts that are even more impressive.

First, you’ve got a lion with wings. At least that’s what Daniel says it looks like. Then there’s something a bear. Then there’s a leopard with wings and four heads. And lastly, we have a different kind of beast. Apparently, it defies an earthly comparison. What does this vision mean? Skip down to verse 15, and we get our answer. In this vision, there are angels standing with Daniel, and they give him the explanation. Verse 15.

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth.

Well, who are those kings? We already got the answer to that back in chapter 2. Do you remember when Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a giant statue? And when no one else could figure out what his dream was or what its interpretation was, Daniel came forward.

That giant statue was made up of four different materials, and it, too, represented four kingdoms. First, there was a head of gold which represented Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. Well, Nebuchadnezzar’s statue in Daniel 2 lines up with Daniel’s vision of chapter 7. The head of gold symbolizes the same thing as the lion. It’s for Babylon.

Gold and lions were symbols of the Babylonian kingdom. There were actually winged lions guarding the entrance to the Babylonian palace. The eagle’s wings are also symbolic of royalty since the eagle is the king of the sky. And they also represent skill and dexterity.

In Daniel’s vision, the lion has his wings taken away, and he is given the mind of a man. What does that mean? I think the best way to understand that is in reference to what we saw happen to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 because of his arrogance. Do you remember?

God stole Nebuchadnezzar’s ability to think and reason. That was to humble him. And then his mind was returned. And Nebuchadnezzar responded with worship in a way that changed the empire. Giving this beast the mind of a man meant he became tame. He was less beastly, we could say. Some believe this could point to the empire becoming more humane after Nebuchadnezzar was restored. That’s the lion.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the next layer was a chest and arms made of silver. Those arms could very well have been a representation of a kingdom with two components. And that would be the Medo-Persian Empire. Those two kingdoms are always united in the book of Daniel—the Medes and the Persians.

Corresponding to the second layer of the statue, we have the second beast, which is a lopsided bear. The bear is an image of power and appetite. It’s a ferocious and hungry animal. The ribs in its mouth indicate that it has just killed and eaten, and that probably symbolizes the nations that the Medo-Persians conquered in order to rise to power, specifically, that would be Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt. But that was just the beginning. This bear was still hungry and still going to eat.

We’re also told that the bear is a little lopsided. It’s got one side higher than the other. This would be symbolic of the greater power that Persia had over the Medes. This was a two-component empire with lopsided power. That’s the second beast—the Medo-Persian Empire.

Next, we have a leopard. This would correspond to the third layer of the statue in Daniel 2, which was an abdomen and thighs made of bronze. This represents the Greeks.

The Greeks came to power because of Alexander the Great. As a young man, Alexander took control of much of the world, and the wonder of it was how quickly he was able to do so. That speed is what we see characterized by the leopard and the wings, which are symbolic of agility as well.

Unlike the lion and the bear, this leopard has four heads. Some take this to mean that the Empire would be large, covering the four corners of the earth, possibly representing Greece, West Asia, Egypt, and Persia. I think a more likely symbolism here is that the four heads mean that the government would be divided into four. Alexander died at a young age. He was only 32. And then, the kingdom of Greece was divided among four generals.

It's an amazing prophecy because, again, this is all being told to Daniel while Babylon is still in power. Alexander doesn’t die until 230 years after this prophecy is given. But the sovereign God had determined what was going to happen.

So, we have Babylon, then Medo-Persia, and then Greece. But then we come to a final beast and a final kingdom. This beast is not like anything Daniel can describe. This has led artists to depict this creature in various ways. But again, they have to use some animal as a starting point—something Daniel isn’t able to do. He has no earthly comparison for it.

Verse 7 says this beast is terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It has great iron teeth. And that would connect to the final portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.

Below the head of gold and the torso of silver and the stomach and things of bronze, you have the legs of iron and the feet of iron and clay. This points us to two phases of a final empire. There’s one phase we’ve already seen, and a second phase many people believe is yet to come.

When you begin to study the end times, especially as you look at Daniel and Revelation and many other passages in the Bible, you find that the symbolism has led to a number of different interpretations. I hope we’ll get more time to talk about that as we continue studying Daniel, but for today, I’m just going to let you know where I stand on all this.

This is not a Southern Baptist stance on this issue. This is not even an official elders’ stance on the issue, but this is what I believe to be the best understanding as we put it all together. I believe the Bible teaches that there will be some revival of the Roman Empire, and that will coincide with a literal 7-year global tribulation which is described in Revelation 4-18.

There are going to be some common characteristics between the first and second phases, but the second phase will be far more powerful. It will dominate the world

After the Greeks, there came the Romans. They came in crushing everything beneath them. Like the beast in Daniels vision, the Romans decimated those who opposed them. They conquered the Greeks, and they squashed every uprising. They were the Iron Empire.

In the vision of the statue, the iron legs were followed by feet of iron and clay. And this pointed to an element of instability. That powerful yet unstable phase on the statue had ten toes. In the case of Daniel’s vision, we get ten horns. That’s what the end of verse 7 says. Horns are symbolic of power and authority, but again, there will be some kind of instability. Let’s look at verse 8.

8 I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.

First there are ten horns, and then, another horn comes up, like a new tooth, knocking out three previous horns. This new little horn has eyes and a mouth.

And Daniel says it begins to speak great things. This is not talking about good things. This is talking about boastful things, arrogant things. This little horn, as part of this coming empire, is exalting itself.

We’ll talk more about this at the end of the chapter, but for now, let’s just pause to consider what this vision is saying. And what should we take away from this?

We’re going to have two main lessons today, and here’s the first one: Don’t be surprised at the ruthlessness of the kingdoms of this world. Don’t be surprised at the ruthlessness of the kingdoms of this world.

In Daniel’s day, the Jews thought that once their exile was over, they would return to the Land and all their problems would be over. There would be everlasting peace and joy and righteousness. But God wants Daniel to know that their problems are not going to end soon. This world is in continual turmoil.

Sometimes, people today live with the same kind of false hope. We assume that once our immediate problems are solved, life will go well. Or we assume that eventually, in the course of human history, mankind will figure out how to live at peace with one another. You need to get that our of your mind.

The kingdoms of this world will not and cannot bring true peace. The news will always have more stories of death and suffering. No matter who the next president is here, no matter who wins the next war, every human kingdom will be marked by cruelty and death. History is full of examples. Don’t be surprised at the ruthlessness of the kingdoms of this world.

So, are we who believe the word of God, supposed to live as pessimists? No. But we shouldn’t be naïve about the pain and the death that this world with bring. No change in our governments is going to fix that.

Just as Daniel is beginning to let this vision sink in, suddenly, there’s a shift. And I imagine some of you understand how that can happen in a dream. All of a sudden, you’re in a different place. The scene goes from the earth to the heavens. Look at verse 9.

9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Do you remember what happened with the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? A stone came and struck the statue on its feet. The feet were crushed; every other layer was crushed; and the statue turned to dust and the wind blew it away.

What was that saying? It was saying that despite the glory and the power and the authority of those earthly kingdoms, one day a new kingdom would come with even greater power and glory and authority. And those kingdoms would be forgotten.

That’s the same message Daniel gets here. These beasts, these kingdoms, will be brought to judgment.

In verse 9, the Ancient of Days is a reference to God. More specifically, it’s God the Father. He is eternal. He is perfectly wise. The white hair and clothing represent His perfect holiness. The fire represents His fearful judgment flowing from His throne. The millions of servants before Him represent His majesty and authority. He is worthy of worship.

Despite the power and the terror of that fourth beast, God will come and bring a decisive end to it. Verse 12 says that the previous beasts lost their dominion, but their lives were prolonged. That’s a reference to the fact that when the Babylonian, Persian, and Greek empires ended, the power was simply shifted to the next ruler. But when this final beast will be destroyed, it’s not going to continue in the same form under a new king. There will be a dramatic shift.

The Roman Empire, as we know it, didn’t end the way Daniel describes the end of this beast. This is a description of the end of the second phase of the Roman Empire. There will be worldwide government, unlike anything else the world has seen. And it’s ruler will exalt himself over God. It will be a kingdom of blasphemy.

But that kingdom will not last forever. God will bring a new kingdom, a heavenly kingdom. And He will give all authority to someone whom He has chosen. That’s what verses 13 and 14 are talking about.

Unlike the beastly kingdoms of this world, a glorious Son of Man will come to rule over the world. It’s not another animal. It’s a man. And He will be given dominion and glory and a kingdom forever. His kingdom will never pass away and will never be destroyed. This is an eternal kingdom.

Who is that King? Who is that Son of Man? We know who it is. It’s Jesus Christ. That was Jesus’ preferred way of referring to Himself, and I believe it was a direct connection to this prophecy. Jesus is the Son of Man who will take the authority away from every earthly king and reign forever with His people. He is infinitely more powerful and glorious.

No matter how ugly this world gets, and it will get uglier, Christ will come, and like verse 18 says, “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.

Revelation 18 tells us that Babylon the great will be thrown down. In Revelation 19 we see that Christ will come and destroy the rulers of this world. Revelation 20 then says that those who did not worship the false beast will be raised to life, and they will reign with Christ for a thousand years. That’s the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom. That’s the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes, and it’s the fulfilment of our hope too. The Son of David will rule over the earth along with His people. As Daniel 7:22 puts it, judgment will be given for the saints, and the saints will possess the kingdom.

We said it so many times in our study of First Peter: In the end, Jesus Christ wins. And those who belong to Him will win as well.

This brings us to your second lesson for today. The first lesson was: Don’t be surprised at the ruthlessness of the kingdoms of this world. The second lesson is this: Don’t forget about the glory of the kingdom of God. Don’t forget about the glory of the kingdom of God.

Yes, this life will bring pain. But we don’t have to live in a panic or in terror because we know the end of the story.

People sometimes talk as if the kingdom of God has come. Well, when Christ was here on the planet in Israel, the kingdom had come. But He was rejected, and Jesus returned to heaven. So, while there may be some spiritual elements of God’s kingdom which are visible today, the kingdom of God has not arrived in the sense that the Israelites understood it. We are citizens of a coming kingdom. And that kingdom, ruled by Jesus Christ, will last forever and ever.

Jesus told His disciples He would eat and drink the Passover again with His disciples until the redemption was complete in the kingdom of God.

Folks, a kingdom is coming. Don’t forget that. Don’t live as if you are going to be defeated ultimately. Yes, we will face pain and opposition. Yes, our bodies will deteriorate and die, but Christ will come, and those who belong to Him will be raised, and we will reign with Him forever.

If you want to meditate more on that this week, look at Psalm 2. It’s a song taunting the kings of this earth because God’s Anointed one will come, and He will destroy the leaders of the nations and rule forever. Don’t forget about the glory of the kingdom of God.

Those are two main lessons for Daniel and for us in this vision. And there is a certain tension that these truths produce. If we forget about the brutality of this world, we’ll be caught off guard. We’ll be shocked or disappointed or overwhelmed. We won’t be living in the real world. On the other hand, if we forget about the coming kingdom of Christ, we can be overcome with grief and despair.

We need to be ready for the pain and the attacks of this world, not just generally, but personally as well. And we need to place our hope in the victory of Jesus Christ. The importance of upholding both of those principles is what we see in the final verses of this chapter.

Daniel was terrified in the vision of the beasts. And I’m sure he was encouraged by the vision of heaven. But now, he comes back, and he wants to go back to that final beast and that little horn. Look at verse 19. Daniel is speaking. Here's what happens next in his vision. Verse 19.

19 “Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, 20 and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions.

21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.

23 “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings.

What’s happening here? Daniel repeats the vision about the horns, and the angel tells him what it means. During the second phase of this Empire, there will come a time when ten kings arise—ten rulers who rule together. They don’t come one after another. There will come a time when ten kings rule together.

What is that going to look like? Does that mean there will be an alliance of ten nations in the world? Well, we can’t be totally sure what that’s going to look like, but with the way things are in the world right now, it’s not a big stretch to imagine ten nations in Europe or the Middle East coming together formally. That could very well happen.

Interestingly, the vision of Revelation 13 has a dragon with 10 horns as well, and so does the vision of Revelation 17. Revelation 17:12-13 says that the ten horns represent ten kings who will rule together, but they will hand over their power to beast, which is the final Antichrist.

Apparently, that’s not going to be completely voluntary. Remember, this little horn uproots three of the other horn, and he elevates himself above the rest. This new ruler is going to politically, and possibly militarily overthrow three of these kings who make up that confederacy or that coalition.

We will see more about Antichrist as we continue in Daniel. For now, we’re talking about a final ruler of a global empire who opposes God and His people. Second Thessalonians 2 refers to him as the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction.

Every human king and ruler who has set himself against God is just a preview of what is to come in that final, global empire. Look at how this little horn is described in verse 25.

25 He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

Throughout the COVID-19 situation, we kept hearing the word “unprecedented.” This was all brand-new for us. Well, this is going to be an unprecedented assault on God and His people. We’ve seen tastes of it in various governments and at various times, but it will dominate the world one day during the Great Tribulation.

When it says that this man will seek to change the times and the law, I believe that’s a reference to the laws and the festivals of the Jewish people. He’s going to try and completely undo their God-ordained worship. He will set himself up as god, worthy of worship.

How long is this going to last? The angel lets Daniel know: a time, times, and half a time. Back in chapter 4, one period of time referred to one year, and that seems to be the best way to understand what’s being said here. That it also in line with other passage of Scripture that talk about how long the rule of Antichrist will be.

A time, that’s one year. Times, that’s plural, or dual, and that’s two years. And then half a time means half a year. One year plus two years plus half a year, that’s three and a half years.

Three and half years is 42 months, and that matches the time period stated in Revelation 11:2 and 13:5 when Jerusalem is going to be under attack and Antichrist will blaspheme.

Three and a half years is 42 months, and with 30-day months, that gives you 1,260 days which is also mentioned in Revelation 11 and 12. So, whether you measure it in days or months or years, the Bible consistently gives us the same time period for all this: three and a half years, or 42 months, or 1,260 days.

It will be a devasting time for the people of God at that time. But it will only be temporary. Again remember, the kingdoms of this world will be marked by cruelty, but one day the kingdom of God will come. And that’s what the angel wants Daniel to take away from all this. Verse 26.

26 But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’

When you look at this world, and you see the blasphemy and death and violence, don’t forget that it’s only temporary. God is going to fix it. Christ and His people will rule forever. Amen? The King of Kings is on His way. Judgment will come upon this world.

Here's how Revelation 11:15 say it: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 

Let’s read the final verse and then we’ll close. Verse 28.

28 “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.”

That’s how we can respond to this message today. We need to realize how awful and destructive the rulers of this world will be. And it’s only going to get worse. But as much as that truth affects us, we also need to take to heart the truth that Jesus will reign forever. Let’s put our trust in Him.

More in Daniel (English 2021)

July 10, 2022

The Promised End

June 26, 2022

A Troubling Vision

June 19, 2022

Wars in Heaven and Earth