Daniel 7 is filled with one of the greatest revelations of Jesus coming into his kingdom. Daniel sees in a vision the gentile kingdoms, but more importantly the “son of man” coming into the presence of the Father for his exaltation. There are some details about this chapter that may puzzle us, but do not let that deter you from seeing the main theme of the chapter found in verse 9-14, which is the scene in Heaven with the Ancient of Days, the heavenly court, and Christ ascending the throne to received glory, power and the kingdom.
In the beginning of the chapter Daniel sees four beasts coming up out of the sea (vs. 3). It seems that the four kingdoms are the same as we find in Daniel chapter 2. I will not spend a great deal of time on the details of each kingdom because that is not what the text does, it focuses some on the fourth kingdom, the “little horn” and then on the scene in heaven which is the main point. The kingdoms of chapter 2 and 7 are:
- Babylon – the lion with eagles wings. The text tells us that the wings were torn off and then the beast stood like a man and was given the heart of man. This likely refers to Nebuchadnezzar when in Daniel 4 he was driven away from people and had the mind of a beast. This abasement and and the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar is what is meant.
- Medo-Persia – the bear raised up one side with three ribs in its mouth. The bear refers to the bigness and heaviness of the Medes and Persians. The bear being raised up on one side suggests the one-sided nature of the empire. The Persians became more powerful than the Medes and rapidly absorbed them. According to Daniel 6, both Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian were both rulers in the same kingdom. Edward J. Young suggest that the three ribs in the bear’s mouth represent Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt. The command to “eat your fill of flesh!” is interesting because it is a divine command to extend the boundaries of the kingdom by “eating up” many other nations.
- Greece – leopard with four wings and four heads. The leopard, known for its speed and agility, symbolizes the swiftness of Alexander the Great’s conquests. The four wings and heads allude to the fact that after Alexander died, the kingdom was divided into four distinct governmental parts.
- Rome – the terrifying and frightening beast that has large iron teeth. The beast crushes its victims and tramples underfoot whatever is left. You notice this beast is different and not identified with a “natural” animal like the other kingdoms. It was very different and could not be compared to anything due to its unusual cruel nature. The kingdom is also different because it has 10 horns. And just as chapter 2 tells us, this is a divided kingdom. Later in chapter 7 when the dream is interpreted, the text tells us that the 10 horns are 10 kings or kingdoms. This is a reference to Rome’s 10 senatorial provinces established by Augustus Caesar. The division of the kingdom into senatorial provinces became an identifying feature from and after Augustus.
Daniel 7:8 tells us about a “little horn” coming up among the other horns already mentioned. It goes on to say that three of the first horns are “plucked out by the roots.” And before the transition in verse 9 it says this horn had eyes like eyes of a man and a mouth speaking pompous words. First of all, let me say that I think this is a confusing part of the Bible. But we find the “man of sin” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, the Antichrist of I John 2:18, and the beast of Revelation 13 and 17 are all talking about the same thing. However, they all talk about system of the beast in different ways. The system of antichrist is the fourth kingdom or the Roman government. This becomes manifested through Caesars, senators, and other ruling powers. The little horn mentioned in Daniel and referenced in the New Testament is also a system, but many times references individuals representing the system. The text tells us the horn had the eyes like the eyes of a man (individual who represents the beast). It is easy to forget this man was within a system, the fourth gentile kingdom, called the beast in Revelation. The Beast and the man can be interchanged within the text of Scripture because they are part of the same thing. One manifests the other and vice versa. This also means that the little horn as a system represents the Roman Caesars. Revelation 13 has some of the same language as Daniel, so it becomes obvious we are talking about the same beast, however John had a more complete picture. You will notice that Revelation 13 contains additional details, but again Daniel and John are referring to the same beast and Antichrist (little horn).
Skipping briefly to the second part of the chapter in Daniel, he is given the interpretation of his dream. This is what is says about this little horn, “the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them . . . He shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change the times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.” (vs. 21, 24-25)
That seems like a rather enigmatic interpretation! However we know that this is where tremendous persecution takes place and for a time the Antichrist prevails (42 months or 3 ½ years). We also see this little horn defeats 3 other kings or kingdoms. I have already mentioned the horns of Daniel 7 likely represent 10 senatorial provinces of Rome. The little horn (Antichrist or man of sin) does indeed refer to a former time, the Roman Empire, and this little horn is a system but also the “kings” within the system, namely Nero, the 6th Caesar of Rome. It is best to see the beast and little horn as a system unless it is plain that it refers to a specific individual like Nero. I realize this is not something everyone ascribes to, but while I am not dogmatic about these areas of Scripture, I do believe the Beast is a system, Rome, and individual Caesars. The fact is Nero and Rome fit the reoccurring theme of Antichrist and beast. We know Nero was the first emperor to persecute the Christians, and history shows us just how horrific it was. In the summer of 64 A.D. Rome burned and the people blamed Nero. To deflect the accusations and placate the people, Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. The Christians were rounded up and tortured and killed for the amusement of the people. The modern term “Roman candles” comes from this era. Nero would light Christians on fire by tying or nailing them to stakes and wrapping them in garments covered in pitch. He created human candles to provide light for evening parties. Nero also was known to sew Christians into the skins of wild beasts. They were attacked by dogs until they died. It is also believed that both Peter and Paul died during the reign of Nero (Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down). There were many other sick atrocities under Nero that I will not mention. Despite what some revisionists claim, the end of Nero’s reign displayed extreme Christian persecution and Nero himself can be described as a beast. The Christian persecution started in late 64 A.D. and Nero died in June of 68. This is 3 ½ years as the text of Daniel and Revelation state.
Before moving on I want to point something out because many people have been taught that all prophecies about the Antichrist are future. What I am saying is different and is backed up by history. This is the power of Biblical prophecy. Events are foretold and later fulfilled. This gives the Bible authority as the word of God. Now something easy to forget is that in Daniel 2 and 7, there are five kingdoms not four. The first four are the gentiles kingdoms already mentioned. And we know from history (and common sense) that each time we move from one kingdom to the next, there is a transition period. In other words, the historical move from the Medo-Persian empire to the Greek did not happen on one day. It happened over a period of time like things usually do. We intuitively know this and history confirms it. Why do I point this out – because there is a fifth kingdom. The fourth is destroyed by the fifth kingdom and although this is a much different kingdom, there still is a transition period. When we do not view things this way we can become somewhat myopic in how we view some of the Bible’s prophecies. The truth is the fourth kingdom was destroyed and a fifth kingdom began. But just because this took time for the final “end” of the fourth kingdom does not mean the fifth kingdom is somewhere out there in the future.
Ancient of Days
Now we have been talking about the 4 beasts or kingdoms of the gentiles, but the reality is that is not the point of chapter 7. The fact is verse 9 is so striking in contrast in the text, we must wonder why Daniel wrote the chapter this way. It is as if we are seeing a visual story and “seeing” the little horn, and then quite shockingly we are propelled into the throne room of the God instantly. I believe this is purposefully so we realize just how little that “horn” is in comparison to the great and awesome Ancient of Days. We are at once thrown into a heavenly courtroom. Thrones are put in place, the Ancient of Days takes his seat. Notice he is not worried about the little horn, he takes his seat as King and Judge. The Ancient is describe as white (like snow and pure wool) and the throne as a burning fire. Flames go forth as a stream of fire before the Ancient and thousands serve him and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him (that is 100,000,000!). So what is all this about, what is happening? Verse 10 tells us, “the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” This is a court scene and judgment is about to be given. The little horn has been allowed to persecute the saints for a season of time, but now the Ancient will render judgment. In case there is any doubt here about what we are seeing, later in the chapter the dream is explained, and in verse 22 it explicitly states the Ancient of Days is passing judgment on the little horn and the kingdom is given to the saints, and in verse 26 is says the court sat in judgment and his (little horn) dominion was taken away and destroyed. My point is that the text does not leave any doubt about what is happening!
The next verse, 11, states, “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.” What this says is that because of the little horn’s action, his pompous words against God, the beast is slain. This was God’s judgment against the Beast and the Roman Caesars who represent the beast (which includes Nero). Now, there are many commentators who do not believe this refers to the Caesars, but to some future Antichrist because Rome did not “fall” in 68 A.D. However, many times kingdoms are represented by their kings. So in literature one might say he or she when referring to an individual or an entire system. The Bible actually puts them together so the beast is a system, but is also a man or individual. But it is specific individuals that represent the kingdom, like the Roman Caesars. This means the text sometimes is referring to the entire system and sometimes referring to an individual, and really it means both because in ancient texts they are the same. For instance, in Daniel 7 verse 17, it clearly states that the four beasts are four kings. But all commentators (that I have read) interpret this to mean four kingdoms. In reality it is both the kingdom and the “head” of the kingdom. In this case, it would refer to Nebuchadnezzar (Babylon), Cyrus (Medo-Persia), Alexander the Great (Greece), and Julius Caesar (Rome).
System of the Beast
In Revelation 13 it states, “And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. (vs. 5-7) This is same type of language used for the little horn in Daniel and is referring to the same system. But the “he” used in verse 5 refers to the beast. This means the beast is a kingdom or system and a person representing that system (Caesar). Remember is says the beast or little horn spoke pompous words against the Most High. In Revelation 13 it tells us the beast uses blasphemous words against God and had “blasphemous names on its heads”. Is this just talking about Nero? No, it refers to all the Caesars who did this. After Julius Caesar died (29 B.C.), a temple honoring him as divus (god) was built in Ephesus. Octavian (Augustus) and subsequent Caesars did not wait for death to be proclaimed gods. The titles of divinity were seen in temples and on Roman coins. Augustus was called the Son of God, the divine-human mediator between heaven and earth. He was proclaimed as the Savior of the world and inscriptions on his coins were nothing less than messianic. According to Ethelbert Stauffer in his book, Christ and the Caesars, the coin inscriptions read, “salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved.” Caesar was Lord, God, and Savior. So in Revelation it is not just talking about Nero, it is the entire system of Caesars who set themselves up against God Almighty, claiming they, the Roman Caesars, were God instead of the true Most High God. Why am I going to such lengths to point this out? Because it matters a great deal in understanding the language of Daniel and Revelation. In Daniel 7 it says the beast was slain, his dominion is removed. I believe in a very specific sense this is talking about Nero. He died in 68 AD and thereafter Rome was thrown into civil war and the end result was an Italy left in ruins. However, we know that Rome did not vanish from history at this point. After “the year of four emperors” (68-69 AD), finally Vespasian brought things back to “normal” and started the Flavian Dynasty. What all this means is that the judgment of God went forth immediately in 68 AD and destroyed the beast (Nero), and while the destruction was final, the system was not yet destroyed until several hundred years later. In a sense, the new kingdom that crushed the beast had to work out its dominion. It was a transition to the new kingdom.
In Revelation 13, referring to the beast out of the sea, the text says that one of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but that this mortal wound was healed and the whole earth followed the beast with wonder. (vs. 3) The next verse quotes, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” This sounds very much like Rome and what happened. The Julio-Claudian Dynasty (Nero) was destroyed and many probably thought during this period that Roman dominance would fall as well. Rome came to the brink of imploding, yet it didn’t. It was “healed” and continued into the Flavian Dynasty. And while all this is true, you can never lean to heavily on Nero because we all know the Christian persecution continued under many Caesars. In fact there are 10 main persecutions under the Roman Caesars starting with Nero. In Revelation 13 (vs. 1) it tells us that the beast had 10 horns, but this time the horns had crowns or diadems. This is different language than Daniel. In Revelation 17, it explicitly states that the 7 heads of the beast are seven mountains but are also seven kings (vs. 9-10). This is very important! If the heads have multiple meanings, then it stands to reason the horns do also. In Daniel the language is couched in a way that make it clear the horns refer to imperial provinces. But in Revelation it uses the same type of language, but adds to it changing the meaning. In verse 12 of Revelation 17 it states the 10 horns are ten kings who have not received a kingdom yet. Considering this language coupled with the “crowned horns” at the beginning of the chapter, it is very unlikely this refers to imperial provinces. The text goes on to say these kings will give their authority to the beast and will make war with the Lamb. Isn’t this what the 10 Caesars did when they persecuted the Christians? Yes, and this is why we must look at the beast and Antichrist as a system that is destroyed by the kingdom of Jesus.
Son of Man
We have spent some time with historical explanation, which I believe is important to understand the text. But now, we are going to take a break and focus on the preeminent point of the prophecy – Jesus Christ! Starting in verse 13 we have a messianic prophecy about the ascension and exaltation of Christ. “And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!” What is so interesting is how the title “Son of Man” is used for Christ. Of course we find this title all through the New Testament. In fact, the title is used 82 times in the New Testament, and 79 of those times it is Christ referring to himself! To most of us, the title seems strange, but the facts remains that “Son of Man” is the #1 title that Jesus uses for himself. Often I have heard this term is used to refer to the humanity of Christ, and while the words, “son of man” do mean, “human”, I do not believe it is that simple. Any time we are looking for the meaning of words, we have to look at the context. If we just say the title with no context, then we could say this refers to the humanity of Christ, but the way the title is used in Daniel and the New Testament infers something much greater. For instance, the above verse says this “Son of Man” is coming on the clouds of heaven. No man can do that, except Messiah. The phrase “clouds of heaven” contains meaning of divinity and Shekinah glory. The fact is when Jesus used this title referring to himself, the Jews likely knew what he meant. He was claiming to be coming from heaven, he was claiming divinity. As we continue reading in verse 13-14, it states that Christ is brought before the Ancient of Days, and then dominion, glory and a kingdom are given to Christ. He is given an everlasting dominion where all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him. So this title, “Son of Man” carries the meaning of judgment and authority. Christ has been exalted to the highest place of authority and dominion.
In Revelation 1, we see this title used again. John hears a voice saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…” Then in verse 13, it says, “and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man”. This is quite telling because this is after Jesus has ascended, and the description of Jesus here is similar to the description of the Ancient of Days in Daniel (head white like wool, fiery flames, etc.). Another example is in Acts 7 right before Stephen is stoned to death. Stephen “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (vs. 55-56) Again, the title used here does not describe humanity, but divinity. As a final example, I want to show how Jesus used this title in his earthly ministry. In Luke 6 when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the his disciples plucking heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath, Jesus tells them in verse 5, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Not exactly a humble statement! In looking at all of this, it is apparently that while the title, “Son of Man” can certainly refer to Christ’s humanity, the title is not used this way in the Bible. The title is used as one who is Lord, God himself. And I point all this out because the roots of the term, “Son of Man” that is repeated by Jesus is found in Daniel, not only referring to the Messiah, but also to his exaltation as King and Judge of the world.