“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.”
The material in Daniel 7 is parallel to the vision of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2. They tell us that God is in control of history, that human kingdoms will succeed human kingdoms until the coming of the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah, but that in the end it is His kingdom that will fill the whole earth.
Daniel saw four wild animals that later we are told represent “four kingdoms that will rise from the earth.” The first was like a lion, although it had eagle’s wings. It had its wings torn off and then was lifted up from the ground so that it stood on two feet. Daniel says that the heart of a man was given to it. The second animal looked like a bear. The distinguishing feature of this animal was that it had three ribs in its mouth and that it was told, “Get up and eat your fill of flesh.” The third animal was like a leopard, but it had four wings like the wings of a bird. It also had four heads and was given authority to rule. The fourth beast was the most terrifying of all. It is not even compared to a known animal. Daniel says only that it had large iron teeth and ten horns. It crushed and devoured its victims and trampled everything underfoot.
While Daniel was thinking about this last beast, particularly about the significance of the ten horns, another horn appeared that uprooted three of the beast’s ten horns. This last horn is said to have had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
At this point a judgment unfolded. Thrones were set up in heaven, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. The Ancient of Days is God. Thousands worshiped Him. The court convened, the books were opened, and the beasts were judged, particularly the last one whose body was destroyed and thrown into a river of fire that flowed from God’s throne. The vision ends by the statement that “one like a son of man” approached the Ancient of Days and was given “authority, glory and sovereign power.” “All peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
The beast that was like a lion corresponds to the golden portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue: the head. This was a representation of the Babylonian empire itself, as Daniel explained to the emperor. However, in this second vision details are added that seem particularly apt as a description of Nebuchadnezzar himself. In view of what we have already been told about Nebuchadnezzar, the tearing off of the animal’s wings seems to symbolize Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling and the reducing of his glory during the years of his insanity. When it is said that the lion-like animal was raised up on two feet and given the heart of a man, it is hard not to think of the restoration of the proud king’s reason. These details help fix our earlier interpretation of the first vision and establish a pattern for understanding the parts of the vision that follow.
The second animal, which was like a bear, corresponds to the silver portions of the statue: the arms, shoulders, and upper parts of the body. This represents the kingdom of the Medes and Persians. These two kingdoms are to be taken together, not divided. Nothing in the history of the Median Empire corresponds to the detail of the three ribs held between the second beast’s teeth. But if the kingdom is that of the Medes and Persians (considered together), then the history fits quite well.
The third beast corresponds to the middle portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the part made of bronze, and represents the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great. Two things particularly characterized this empire: the speed with which it was achieved and the speed with which it divided into four separate kingdoms after its founder’s death. Like a swiftly running leopard, Alexander won his vast empire in one extended campaign. But within a few years of his death in 323 b.c., the kingdom fractured into four parts.
The final beast of Daniel’s dream, the terrible one unlike any known animal, corresponds to the legs, feet, and toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and represents Rome. Several details of the visions tie the statue and beast together. The legs of the statue are iron; so are the teeth of the animal. The animal has ten horns; these find a parallel in the ten toes of the statue, presumably representing ten confederated kingdoms. However, a new feature is introduced in the vision of the four beasts that was not present in the vision of the statue: the appearance of “another horn, a little one,” which replaced three of the horns of the last and terrible beast. The horns (and toes) would seem to be kingdoms. But this horn has characteristics of an individual ruler. This seems to be the first biblical reference to the individual later described in the Bible as the Antichrist.
At this point, we are reminded of the stone uncut by human hands that came and struck the great statue of Nebuchadnezzar so that it fell and was broken in pieces and then was scattered by the wind. The stone then grew to become a great mountain that filled the earth. In this second vision the judgment of God is passed upon the world’s kingdom, and all “authority, glory and sovereign power” are given to the “son of man,” whom we recognize as Jesus.