The most obvious point to be made about the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7 is that it parallels the vision of the statue, and this is true. But it is also obvious that although the two accounts are parallel, they are nevertheless not presented from the same perspective. On the contrary, the perspectives are radically different. In the first the outlook is quite human, the way a man or woman might look at these great empires. In the second the perspective is God’s. It tells us how God views the world’s kingdoms.
How does man view the world’s kingdoms? Well, he is impressed, for the most part. How does God view earth’s kingdoms? Daniel 7 describes it.
From God’s point of view the state is not so much a noble, glorious thing as it is an animal that conquers, devours, and tears those subject to it. What is more characteristic of the kingdoms of this world’s history: the properly functioning state of Romans 13 or the corrupt, devouring state of Revelation 13? It would be nice if we could point confidently to Romans 13. Unfortunately, honesty compels us to admit that the kingdoms of this world have often been terrible and ferocious and richly deserve judgment.
By comparing the vision of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2 and the vision of Daniel in Daniel 7, we must also admit that the latter is the way God seems most often to view them.
Not only does the vision of the four beasts indicate how God regards the supposedly glorious kingdoms of this world. It also reveals a glimpse of that kingdom which truly is glorious, in whose light all the imagined achievements of men and movements of history are to be evaluated. In this area the visions convey several important ideas. One of which we look at today.
God rules in history. This is an obvious point and one that has already been seen several times in Daniel. Indeed, it is the chief message of the book. When Nebuchadnezzar set up his great golden statue in the plain of Dura, he did so in defiance of God who had said that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would pass away and be succeeded by another, even though it was glorious enough in human terms to be described as a head of gold. Nebuchadnezzar said in effect, “My kingdom is an everlasting dominion that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). But his kingdom was destroyed – by Cyrus the Persian – because it is the decree of God and not the desire of man that rules history. In Daniel 5, when Belshazzar at his great feast defiled the vessels of God taken from the temple in Jerusalem, he too was saying, “I determine my own history.” But he was wrong! God numbered his days and brought them to an end. God weighed him and declared that he was found wanting. God divided his kingdom, giving it to the Medes and Persians. This is the point made in Daniel’s vision. The bestial empires of world history may roar and frighten for a time. They may crush kingdoms weaker than they are. But in the end, all will be brought to judgment and the kingdom of God’s Anointed alone will be established. This is because God, and not mere human beings, is in charge.
You must apply this personally. If you are in a position of power and influence, you are in danger of thinking that the power you exercise somehow flows from you because of the exceptional person you are. If you are wealthy, you are in danger of thinking that your wealth is self-generated – that you are wealthy because you are better than other people. The same danger exists if you are good-looking or have a natural way with people or a talent that is in much demand.
None of these things comes from yourself. Rather, all are God’s gift to you, and he can both give them and take them away. He can raise a person up, and he can bring that one down. He does! He does it constantly.
The truth that God rules history may also be applied in a comforting way. I think of that section of our Lord’s sermon on the Mount of Olives shortly before his arrest and crucifixion in which He gave His disciples a forecast of things to come. There will be many false christs (“antichrists”) who will deceive many, He said. There will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be widespread apostasy as many turn from the faith. People will hate and betray one another. Wickedness will increase. Indeed, at the very end “the abomination that causes desolation”- a clear reference to Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11 – will appear. It will usher in a time of “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Mathew 24:21). Still, in spite of this great turmoil that will cause the hearts of many to shake with fear, Christ’s words to His disciples are words of comfort. “See to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (v.6).
How is it that Jesus can tell His own not to be alarmed in such circumstances? False christs? Wars? Apostasy? Hatred? Betrayal? Wickedness? Persecution? How can we not be troubled so long as we have hearts to feel and minds to grieve with those who are suffering? The answer – the only possible answer – is that, in spite of these things, God is in control of history and will yet work all things out in accordance with His just and all-wise plan for humanity. As Daniel shows, in the end the wicked will be judged and the saints will reign with Jesus.