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Jun 02, 2013

Beauty & the Beasts

Passage: Daniel 7:1-28

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Daniel: Overcoming Under Siege

Keywords: prophecy, future, nations, kingdoms, persecution


Chapter 7 of Daniel deals with Daniel's vision/dream of the 4 future world empires as seen in 4 beasts in his vision. This message deals with the role of prophecy in the Old Testament, in the Bible in general and in the life of believers today. It also examines what God wants to say to us today through prophecies given 2500 years ago.


Historical Future

“Overcoming Under Siege” Series

Daniel 7

June 2, 2013


Connection Question

  • If you could know the future, what would you want to know about it? 
  • What would you definitely NOT want to know?


Why do people want to “know the future”?  Throughout the history of mankind, people have spent fortunes trying to get a glimpse into the future.  Sci-Fi books and movies capture the attention (and money) of millions of people.  From the weather to economies to medicine, some people’s full-time jobs revolve around being able to predict elements of the future. 

But fortune-tellers, soothsayers, diviners and astrologers are all people God warned His people not to consult or spend their hard-earned cash on.  Yet prophets and prophecy is something the Bible is filled with. 

Why this seeming disconnect?  God is obviously not opposed to revealing some elements of the future to his people.  But he is vehemently opposed to his children trying to reach beyond the snapshots of the future that He has chosen or may yet choose to reveal.


Today we have arrived at the prophetic half of the book of Daniel.  While Daniel spoke a few prophetic words to various rulers he served in his lifetime, the half of the book we have already studied covered mainly historical events.  That’s the nature of much of Old Testament prophetic books.  They spend a fair amount of time looking back in history and calling God’s people to learn from the past.  And when most of the Old Testament prophets spoke about the future, it was to warn God’s people of the judgment that would come unless they changed their spiritual trajectory. Prophets were the flagmen along the road of national life whom God strategically positioned to warn His people off the road of moral, national and spiritual destruction. 


In fact, when it comes to the vast section of prophetic literature in the Old Testament from Isaiah to Malichi, biblical scholars tell us that “less than 2% of O.T. prophecy talks about the Messiah, less than 5% specifically describes the new-covenant age of the church and less than 1% concerns events yet to come from our historical vantage point.”  [Quoted by Duvall & Hayes in Grasping God’s Word, p. 399ee & Stuart’s book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.]


God is apparently not a big fan of his people trying to chart their lives out based upon events that may yet unfold in the world.  But He does tell us some of those events.  And I’m not even convinced that he does so to put our hearts at ease.  Much of what we are going to see that God revealed to Daniel didn’t leave him relaxed and confident.  It more often left him troubled or downright terrified.  Such is the nature of Daniel 7’s vision that God gave about a very big chunk of human history. 


All this leads me to believe that, when it comes to the future, it is not knowing the future that is so vitally important for us as God’s children.  It is a couple of other things:

1.)    God seems to care much more that we know that He is active and powerful…downright sovereign…in and over the affairs of nations and rulers and peoples of the present and future.

2.)    God seems to want us to know Him and that He will be there in that future, no matter how hard or horrible or earth-shaking it may be.

ILL:  Just this week, I had conversations with 2 different people who both have family members who seemed to be doing just fine until a couple of months ago.  One had even had a clean chest scan in January of this year.  Both now have stage 4 cancers throughout their bodies and have been given virtually weeks by their doctors to live.

            It is far more important for both these people and their families that they know God in the present and the future than that they know exactly what and when things are going to play out in that future.  The fact is, even if we could know the future, we cannot change what God has decreed will happen. At best, from a biblical point of view, we might be able to affect the timing of some future events like God’s judgment or discipline.  It is far more important what we ARE in the future than that we KNOW the future.

Let me give you an example. The prophet Jonah was given a message of judgment to the people of Nineveh:   “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) But when the Ninevites repented of their sin, God postponed judgment  for another 160 years (770B.C. to 612B.C. when Nineveh fell to the Medes and the Babylonians.)  The judgment eventually fell, but who those Assyrians were in their generation saved their nation from divine judgment for at least 4 generations.


God has told us that he will judge every wicked nation and peoples at some point.  The world cannot escape that.  Neither can the people of God escape the harsh reality of living in a world under the sway and curse of sin.  But what prophecy can do is keep us from developing some celestial delusion that this world apart from Christ will be a kind and gentle and wonderful place that will treat godly people with respect.  The Bible is quite consistent on this matter:  God’s people will suffer persecution and hatred in this world if they live the life of Christ out. 


Look at what happened to Daniel after he received this dream-vision of chapter 7.  Vs. 15-- “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.”  Then in vs. 28, after the angel explains to him what will happen to the last part of his vision, he says this.  “This is the end of the account. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance changed; but I kept the matter in my heart.”


Here is what we must do with prophecy—keep the grand scope of God’s work in this world in our hearts.  Doing so will keep us from being disillusioned by life’s difficult events.  It will draw us closer to God no matter how far this world gets from Him.  It will lead us to live focused lives that see the realities of God as far more valuable than all the relics and riches this world has to offer.  We will not pass this way again.  We will not walk this road of life in a fallen world but this one life God has given us to live here.  Some day we will enter a new reality and this one will fade away.  But we will still be people marked, changed and molded by the living out of divine history.  That is why God talks to his people about the past, the present and the future.  Let us never forget that. 


So here we go into one of the most amazing, specific and stunning passages of prophecy in all the Bible.  Chapters 1-6 were history.  And chapter 7 begins by telling us that the dream-vision Daniel is about to share actually took place sometime between chapters 4 and 5.  Daniel was probably in his mid-60s when he had this vision.

Daniel 7:1--In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts.

Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.


That phrase or name “the Great Sea” is sometimes used in the O.T. to speak of the Mediterranean Sea (Josh. 15:12; 23:14; Ezek. 47:10, 19).  Though Daniel was hundreds of miles from that sea, perhaps that is the backdrop upon which God chooses to paint this vision. 

But “the Great Sea” can also refer figuratively to the nations of the world or the masses of humanity (Is. 57:20; Rev. 17:15).  “The four winds of heaven” use the Hebrew term ruach for “wind”, the same term used for God’s breath throughout the O.T.  It is God’s divine decree that stirs up humanity, even pagan humanity, to bring forth the flow of human history that He decrees. 


Now Daniel is going to describe 4 animals or “great beasts” (vs. 3) that God reveals to him.  They represent four kingdoms, four epochs of human rule in this world.  Daniel tells us in vs. 16 that he asked one of the beings in his vision what it all meant.  That being told him in vs. 17, “Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth.”  So we know these four rather strange looking beasts represent 4 kings or kingdoms. 


The first is in vs. 4-- The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.

            Notice that Daniel, like the Apostle John in Revelation, says that what he saw was “like” the animals he will name.  Something about their appearance and characteristics reminded Daniel (and John later) of these particular beasts of prey. It is pretty well accepted that this flying lion-like beast represents Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire.  Even today, if you go to the Royal British Museum of History, you can see the statues that stood at the entrance to ancient Babylon.  This stuff was unearthed during the 19th century in the excavation of the ancient city of Babylon.

            The vision of the wings being plucked off and it made to stand on two feet “like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it” probably refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation when he lost his mind, became like a beast of the field and then was given a heart of repentance.  This may be a reference to his spiritual conversion from self to Yahweh.  Given what we know from chapter 4, I won’t be surprised if old Neb is in heaven as one of the redeemed Gentiles of old. 


Vs. 5-- “And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’ 

Here is the second beast/kingdom.  It was “raised up on one side with 3 ribs in its mouth.”  This is a flesh-devouring beast.  A bear is less regal than a lion but no less formidable in strength.  This is an allusion to the Medo-Persian Empire that was the to follow the Babylonian Empire.  It corresponds with the chest and arms of silver that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his first dream in Daniel 2.  The reference to being “raised up on one side” could refer to the fact that one portion, namely the Persian part of this empire, was more powerful/dominant than the other part, the Mede.  The 3 ribs in its mouth are the three kingdoms of Babylon, Lydia and Egypt that it devoured.     


On to the third beast, vs. 6-- “After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.”

This beast represents the Greek Empire, the same that was represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 by the statue’s belly and thighs of bronze.  A leopard is known for its speed.  Add to that four wings and you have one very fast-moving empire.  Such was the reality under Alexander the Great who rapidly conquered the known world starting from Greece in the west and moving east, all the way to India, and all by age 29.  He dies at age 32 and, according to reports, when asked on his deathbed who should assume command when he passed, Alexander is reported to have said, “Give it to the strong.”  In an empire of big egos, that was a sure recipe for infighting.  In the end, four of his generals divided the kingdom into four parts (thus the “four heads”)—Macedonia, Egypt, Syria and Thrace (or ancient southern Europe). 


Now we come to the fourth beast, the one that adds additional information to what we knew of this kingdom from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2.  That empire was the legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay.  If you were with us that Sunday, you remember how that seems to indicate the original Roman empire (legs of iron) which was really the last world-empire in human history.  That is followed by a mixture of strong and weak nations (iron mixed with clay) in the last great epoch of time. 

            But here is what Daniel sees about this kingdom, starting in vs. 7--  “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.”

            Daniel doesn’t even try to compare this beast to anything he’s familiar with.  He simply sais that it was “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong” and “had huge iron teeth” that it used to devour, break and then trample what was left of its victims. 

Beasts 1-3 pose no problem to Daniel.  But it’s the 4th beast that he asks about later on in vs. 19.  The fourth is unlike the others.  “How was it different from the other empires,” we might ask?  Rome destroyed rather than took advantage of conquered peoples.  The previous empires, like that of Nebuchadnezzar, took the best of the countries they conquered.  Cyrus even took pride in honoring the religions of the conquered peoples.  But Rome was different. 

When Rome conquered, their troops would dig in around a city and starve them out, destroying everything.  Rome in the first two centuries of it’s existence went from a short-term conscription of soldiers to long-term paid volunteers.  A Roman soldier would enlisted for 25 years and many later served for 30 or 40 years at the request of Caesar.  None of this 4-year stuff like the U.S. military!  It became your life…and if you lived to see 25 years in service, you were granted Roman citizenship and 13 years of salary lump-sum for your service.   


One more note about biblical prophecy.  There can be what we call “multiple fulfillment” of prophecy.  This is one such case.  This prophecy and the one in Daniel 2 clearly speak of the Roman empire as that empire of iron and then iron mixed with clay.  But this prophecy also adds elements that seem to require that some of this fulfillment be yet future through some sort of re-established/revived Roman Empire.  So some of this last beast prophecy has already come to pass and some is yet future.  Keep that in mind as we talk about this fourth empire.

In vss. 7 & 8 Daniel sees ten horns on this “different” beast.  In Nebuchadnezzar’s vision it would have been the ten toes of the feet.  The focus on metals in his vision probably is used to emphasize those empire’s power and wealth.  But Daniel sees bloodthirsty beasts, each carnivores who consume their prey.  So the point God probably wants to make to Daniel is that world empires are bloody, violent sorts of human entities.  

            This is simply the sad reality of human empires: they are almost always built upon bloodshed and human misery.  The history of empires and nation states has been one of the stronger devouring the weaker. And Daniel’s dream-vision is meant to drive that point home in a graphic and emotional way for Daniel. 


ILL:  It’s what happens to many of us when we watch a movie like Shindler’s List about the Nazi atrocities…or The Killing Fields of Cambodia…or Hotel Rwanda about the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis.  I don’t know about you, but I usually sit stunned, not saying anything, watching the credits scroll as my mind tries to come to terms with how human beings can treat each other with such evil.  This is what Daniel felt.  Seeing in visual form even simply a prophetic metaphor for human history left him “grieved in spirit” and “greatly troubled.”  The gruesome reality of how peoples and nations not under the direction of the Spirit of God treat each other is sobering, to say the least. 

            In some way, I think God wanted Daniel…and wants us…to grieve over the violence that grips our world.  When we read the newspaper or see news reports and photos of suffering people, it should move us to sadness, to silence, to prayer and to a heartfelt longing for Jesus to hasten his return that will set up His kingdom in which the lion and the lamb will lie down together and the swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hoods and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Is. 2:4 & Micah 4:3) This is not some fairy tale ending to human misery but a period of human history prophesied to come just as certainly as these four kingdoms talked about here came to be.

Well, as Daniel was considering this 10-horned beast in vss.7-8, something strange happened.   I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.” 

What this appears to be is a 10 nation-confederacy that eventually is dominated by someone which starts small, pushes aside 3 of those nations and become the dominant power leading the world. 

            Apparently this is a specific human being.  Daniel says in vs. 8 that this horn had “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.”  Everything here points to a person, not just a nation.         

We’ll come back to vss. 9-14 because they are more about the kingdom that God will set up in the future.  So skip over to vs. 24 for the further description of this 4th kingdom and big-mouthed leader.  Keep in mind that the Bible uses the term and imagery of a horn to speak of someone or something with power and authority. 

24 The ten horns are ten kings
Who shall arise from this kingdom.
And another shall rise after them;
He shall be different from the first ones,
And shall subdue three kings.
25 He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.

There are 3 things this pompous big-mouth leader does.

First, in vs. 25, “he shall speak pompous words against the Most High.”  That word translated “against” literally means “at the side of.”  This king will blaspheme by trying to elevate himself to the level of God.  He will claim deity for himself and try to speak with the same authority as God speaks.  Dan. 11:36 will prophecy that he will “exalt and magnify himself above every god.”  Paul in 2 Thess. 2:4 tells us that this anti-christ will “oppose and exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”  And John, in Revelation 13:4-6, 8, 12, 16 tells us this man will be worshiped by many people, will speak arrogant words and blasphemies and blaspheme God’s name and his tabernacle.  Which leads to the second thing this man will do.

Secondly, this king will wage war against the saints of God.  Back in vs. 21, Daniel relates,  “I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.”

John wrote about this in his Revelation 13:7 that he will be given power to “make war with the saints and to overcome them.”  Rev. 20:4 tells us that many of these saints will be martyred for refusing to worship this king. No wonder Daniel was troubled when he saw this dream-vision.

            Just how long will this go on?    The end of vs. 25 tells us, “For a time and times and half a time.”  If you understand the singular “time” as 1, and the plural “times” as 2 times, 1 + 2 plus “half a time” or ½ = 3 ½ “times.”  Here is where John’s Revelation sheds some very specific light on this question.  In Rev. 13:5-7, the N.T. parallel passage and prophecy of these events, John talks about this king blaspheming God and waging war against the saints.  He says “and authority to act for 42 months was given to him” (vs. 5).  Forty-two months is 3 ½ years so the 3 ½ “times” must be 3 ½ years.  Once this king begins to blaspheme God by claiming deity for himself and demanding that he be worshiped as God, he will have 3 ½ years to persecute the saints of God.  Many believe this to be the last 3 ½ years of the 7 year Great Tribulation period. 

            The third bold action this king will make is that he “shall intend to change times and law.”  According to the Bible, God is the One who determines the Times, such as day and night, days, seasons, years, the length of human lives, when nations and kings exist and rule and when the Gentiles dominate the world (Gen. 1:14; 8:22; Ps. 31:15; Dan. 2:21; 7:12; Lk. 21:24; Acts 1:7; 17:26).  He also determines law—moral law, natural law and physical law.  He institutes human governments and brings law and order to society.  Times and law are the instruments by which God regulates the affairs of people on earth.  While the angel here speaking with Daniel doesn’t say exactly what specific alterations in times and law this king will make, it is apparent he will be determined to exercise authority over 2 areas that are the exclusive right of God.  And he will probably try and do it to bolster his claim to deity.  This ruler will be the ultimate in man-centered leadership and rejection of God.    

            Now vss. 26 & 27 are the angel’s interpretation of the heavenly judgment scene that we skipped over in vss. 9-14.  So let’s go back and read those and then pick up these 2 verses.

9)“I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
10 A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.


It is interesting in how many ways this vision of God corresponds with other visions from Ezekiel, Isaiah, and John in Revelation.  We don’t have time to look at those passages.  But let me encourage you to write them down and maybe even this morning during the time of meditation or communion, read them for this stereo image of our great God who will one day sit in judgment of all evil.  [See Revelation 1:12-17; 5:8-14; Ez. 1:4-28]

            Without going into detail, the “thrones” here are probably the 24 Elders spoken of repeatedly in the book of Revelation (Rev. 4:4, 10; 5:8, 14; 11:16 & 19:4).  Read Rev. 19 to see John’s vantage point of the anti-Christ’s defeat and destruction that Daniel now talks about in vs. 11 here.

11 “I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

            Notice that the other beasts/kingdoms were not totally destroyed.  They simply had their “dominion” taken away… actually replaced by the successive kingdoms.  Their “lives were prolonged for a season and a time” in that Gentile kingdoms continued on.  Their kingdoms are simply absorbed into the next kingdom.  But not so with this final beast

Go back now to vs. 26 for further clarification on vs. 12 here.

26 ‘But the court shall be seated,
And they shall take away his dominion,
To consume and destroy it forever.
27 Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’


Not only is his dominion taken away.  It is “consumed and destroyed forever.”  This is precisely the events of Revelation 19 that John sees when Christ returns to set up his 1,000 year reign.  First, he defeats the anti-Christ and his armies.  Then he binds Satan himself and institutes His millennial reign in which the saints who were beheaded for their witness to Jesus in the tribulation reign with Christ (Rev. 20:4). 


Listen to how Daniel describes in vss. 13-14 of Daniel 7 this coming reign of Christ. 

13 “I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14 Then 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 the one
Which shall not be


Note a couple of final things:

1)      There is a total destruction of this last Gentile kingdom before the reign of “the Son of Man” or Jesus Christ  is instituted.  Thus, it was not the first coming of Jesus that established this millennial kingdom but it will be the second coming.  This is the difference between amillenial theology which sees the millennial kingdom talked about in Revelation 20 as an indefinite period of time in which the kingdom of God gradually gains more and more ground in the world through more and more people trusting in Christ as Savior, Lord and God.  Premillenial theology holds that Jesus will return to earth prior (pre) to setting up his literal 1,000 year reign on earth.  When he comes this second time, it will be at the end of the 7 years of the Great Tribulation and will bring the anti-Christ’s rule and all pagan/secular Gentile rule to an end.  That will be at the battle of Armageddon found in  Rev. 16. 

2)      The language of Daniel 7 indicates that this future Kingdom of God will be an earthly, political kingdom, not just a “spiritual kingdom” set up in the hearts of a few people.  If the Kingdom of God were simply the rule of Christ in the hearts of saints in the present or eternity future, then the Kingdom of God would consist of something that possesses and rules the saints.  It would not be something that the saints receive, possess and rule as Daniel 7:18 says it will be.  (Jesus in Mt. 25:34 and John in Rev. 20:4, 6 confirm this.)  Furthermore, Dan. 7:27 indicates that the saints will be given “the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven.”  That expression “under heaven” is used throughout the Bible to refer to what is earthly in nature or belongs to the earth.  So the Kingdom of God that will be given to the saints will include earthly rule and dominion under the sovereign rule of Christ in the millennium. 


So there you have it.  This chapter is not light devotional reading.  It is sobering, specific, supernatural revelation of events that may be a matter of just a few months or years away from us today. 


So what should our response to this revelation be?  May I suggest a couple for today.  Perhaps God will speak more to you as we engage in these.


First, don’t be surprised by what this world will do to God’s people.  Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared.  God knows what is coming and has told us what to expect.  And if He has told us that these horrendous events are to come upon his own saints some day, don’t be dismayed or discouraged when lesser but very difficult, challenging and even life-threatening events come your way before that time. 

EX:  Skype call with two pastors in Pakistan this week.  They live in a province where just because one Muslim said one of the Christians had insulted the Koran, over 200 homes of Christian families were burned and destroyed.  And just two weeks ago, a bomb was set off in the street in front of the home of one of these pastors. 


Secondly, be awed by the majesty, power and beauty of the God you serve.  No one compares to Him.  He holds ALL power, authority, dominion and rule.  He leads the unnumbered hosts of heaven in battle against Satan and his followers.  He will triumph…and in the unfolding of human history, he will be glorified. 


May I invite you to simply worship Him in his greatness for a few minutes by reading silently some of the passages I mentioned but did not read today that speak of His majesty? 

Revelation 1:12-18

Revelation 5:8-14

Revelation 19:11-16