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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 7

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


F. Daniel’s vision of future world history ch. 7

"As interpreted by conservative expositors, the vision of Daniel [in chapter 7] provides the most comprehensive and detailed prophecy of future events to be found anywhere in the Old Testament." [Note: Walvoord, p. 145.]

"The vision’s setting in the Book of Daniel makes it the book’s central hinge. In language [i.e., Aramaic], it belongs with the preceding chapters, while structurally it rounds off a chiasm begun in chap. 2:

2 A vision of four kingdoms and their end (Nebuchadnezzar)

3 Faithfulness and a miraculous rescue (the three friends)

4 Judgment presaged and experienced (Nebuchadnezzar)

5 Judgment presaged and experienced (Daniel)

6 Faithfulness and a miraculous rescue (Daniel)

7 A vision of four kingdoms and their end (Daniel) . . ." [Note: Goldingay, pp. 157-58. See J. Paul Tanner, "The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:639 (July-September 2003):269-82, who also argued for chapter 7 being the hinge of the book.]

Goldingay recorded many excellent comparisons and contrasts between chapter 7 and chapters 2-6. [Note: Goldingay, pp. 158-59.]

This is the first of four visions that Daniel recorded in chapters 7-12 (cf. chs. 8; 9; 10-12). In this great chapter, Daniel revealed the consecutive history of four major world empires, concluding with the coming of Jesus Christ from heaven and the establishment of His kingdom-a fifth kingdom (cf. ch. 2). Thus it provides a framework for more detailed revelation of these kingdoms that follows in the Book of Daniel and in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Revelation. Chapter 7 gives more information about the first four kingdoms that Daniel had already revealed in chapter 2 (cf. Psalms 2; Psalms 110).

"In chapter 2, the four earthly kingdoms and Christ’s heavenly kingdom were seen in their outward political appearance; by contrast, chapter 7 presents God’s estimate of their innermost moral and spiritual features.

"In chapter 2, the symbols were taken from inanimate objects; here in chapter 7, they are taken from the animate. In chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar saw the splendor of world empires portrayed in the dazzling statue of a man, while the Kingdom of God was symbolized by a stone. By contrast, in chapter 7, Daniel’s vision reveals the animalistic character of world empires and the fact that it is only in the Kingdom of God that man’s full dignity is realized-in the Son of Man." [Note: Feinberg, pp. 83-84. See also Whitcomb, pp. 92-93.]

"Almost all interpreters understand that these two visions are to be interpreted in the same way. . . . These four kingdoms, according to the interpretation commonly received in the church, are the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Macedo-Grecian, and the Roman. ’In this interpretation and opinion,’ Luther observes, ’all the world are agreed, and history and fact abundantly establish it.’ This opinion prevailed till about the end of the last [seventeenth] century, for the contrary opinion of individual earlier interpreters had found no favour. But from that time, when faith in the supernatural origin and character of biblical prophecy was shaken by Deism and Rationalism, then as a consequence, with the rejection of the genuineness of the book of Daniel the reference of the fourth kingdom to the Roman world-monarchy was also denied." [Note: Keil, pp. 245-46.]

Deists and rationalists, in contrast to supernaturalists, believe that there is no such thing as predictive prophecy. Therefore someone must have written the Book of Daniel after the events recorded happened.

"Critics hold that the real author of Daniel lived in the time of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), and that from the viewpoint of the second century B.C. he looked backward over the preceding four centuries, organized history in a manner which was significant for him, and made this the basis for anticipating a climax to the Maccabean persecution then under way. Accordingly, the pseudo-Daniel considered Antiochus as symbolic of the wickedness of the powers of this world which the author believed were soon to be judged by God, who was to intervene and replace the rule of tyranny under Antiochus by that of the saints of the Most High." [Note: Walvoord, p. 147.]

These critics believe that the four empires in view in chapters 2 and 7 are not Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, but Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. Rowley and Montgomery are representative commentators who held this opinion. According to them, Rome was not a significant enough power in the world in the second century B.C. to warrant identifying it as the fourth kingdom. However, Jesus Christ spoke of an aspect of the fourth kingdom as still future (Matthew 24:15; cf. Daniel 12:11). The Book of Revelation, written close to the end of the first century A.D., likewise predicts the fulfillment of aspects of this kingdom in the future (e.g., Revelation 13). Furthermore, Daniel 9:26 predicted the cutting off of Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem, both of which happened in the first century A.D.

Critics support their identification of the empires with two main points. First, references to Darius the Mede in chapter 6 indicate to them that the Median Empire was a significant enough one by itself for the writer to single it out. However, that very chapter states that it was the joint kingdom of the Medes and Persians that was then in power (Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15). Second, Greece would have been the dominant world power when pseudo-Daniel wrote in the second century B.C. This argument assumes the critics’ hypothesis that someone wrote Daniel in the second century B.C., and reads the text through that grid.

A better approach is to respect the text as it stands, and seek to harmonize it with the rest of Scripture and the facts of history. This leads to the more natural conclusion that Daniel received revelations of the future-from his sixth-century perspective-from God. History has shown that there was one unified Medo-Persian Empire, and that what Daniel wrote about the third and fourth empires, fits Greece and Rome better than it fits Persia and Greece. It also shows that what Daniel predicted of the first three kingdoms, as well as some of what he wrote about the fourth kingdom, has happened. Scripture indicates that some revelation concerning the fourth kingdom, and all the revelation about the fifth kingdom, describes what is still future from our perspective in history.

Verse 1

We have already read of two dreams that Nebuchadnezzar had (Daniel 2:1; Daniel 4:5). Now God gave one to Daniel. It too was a vision from God that came to Daniel as he slept.

"In referring to the experience as ’a dream’ (sing.) Daniel was emphasizing the unity of the revelation and in referring to it as ’visions’ (pl.) he emphasized the successive stages in which the revelation was given. . . . The dream refers to his being asleep, and the visions refer to what he saw while dreaming." [Note: Pentecost, p. 1350.]

This revelation came to Daniel in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign as co-regent with his father, Nabonidus, namely, in 553 B.C. [Note: Wood, A Commentary . . ., p. 179; Archer, "Daniel," pp. 84-85; Whitcomb, p. 91; Chisholm, p. 304. The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Belshazzar," by D. J. Wiseman, claimed the year was 556 B.C.] It was fitting that this vision of the downfall of world empires should come to the prophet during the reign of the last king of Babylon. God gave it to him 50 years after the similar revelation of the great image in chapter 2 (cf. Genesis 41:25; Genesis 41:32). Daniel would have been about 68 years old when he had this dream. Chronologically then we can place this chapter between chapters 4 and 5.

"God does not reveal all His truths at once, even to the wise, but reserves much for age and experience." [Note: Baldwin, p. 138.]

Upon waking, Daniel recorded what he had seen. What follows in this chapter, he wrote, is only a summary of what he saw.

"For the first time in the book, a vision is written down. Earlier OT prophecies were put into writing as a stage in implementing them and, when they were disbelieved, as an evidence that they had been given before the events of which they spoke, and thus were indeed words from God (see Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 36; Habakkuk 2:2)." [Note: Goldingay, p. 184.]

Verses 1-8

1. The four beasts 7:1-8

Verse 2

Daniel referred to himself in the third person in the first six chapters, but in the last six he used the first person. He may have made this change to make his visions more impressive and persuasive to the reader.

Daniel saw "the Great Sea," probably the Mediterranean (cf. Numbers 34:6-7; Joshua 1:4; Joshua 9:1; Ezekiel 47:10; et al.), stirred up by the four winds (or spirits) of heaven (Daniel 7:2; cf. Jeremiah 23:19; Jeremiah 49:36; Zechariah 6:1-6; Revelation 7:1-3; et al.). The "sea" in Scripture and in ancient Near Eastern thinking represented the unorganized mass of humanity, the populace of the earth (Daniel 7:17; cf. Isaiah 8:6-8; Isaiah 17:12-13; Isaiah 57:20; Isaiah 60:5; Jeremiah 6:23; Jeremiah 46:7-8; Jeremiah 47:2; Matthew 13:47; Luke 21:25; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:15; Revelation 21:1; et al.). The Mediterranean world seems to be particularly in view, since the sea was the Mediterranean Sea. The "wind" represents God’s power expressed in judgment, using heavenly and earthly forces from all directions, to influence the nations as He wills (cf. Revelation 7:1; Revelation 9:14-15). [Note: Cf. Keil, pp. 222-23.]

"God often used the wind as a means to attain His ends (Genesis 8:1: Exodus 10:13-19; Exodus 14:21; Exodus 15:10; Numbers 11:31; 1 Kings 18:45; 1 Kings 19:11). . . . Of more than 120 references in the Bible to wind (more than 90 in the O.T. and about 30 in the N.T.), well over half are related to events and ideas which reflect the sovereignty and power of God. In Daniel, wind is uniformly used to represent the sovereign power of God, which is the viewpoint of the book." [Note: Walvoord, p. 152. Cf. Genesis 1:2.]

Verse 3

The four beasts arising out of the sea represent four kings (Daniel 7:17). They personify the nations over which they rule, as becomes clear in the following revelation. They are anomalies, as are the other characters presented, and their abnormalities have significance.

"The monarchy vision of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 2) covers the same order of fulfillment as Daniel’s beast vision, but with this difference: Nebuchadnezzar saw the imposing outward power and splendor of ’the times of the Gentiles’ (Luke 21; Luke 24; cp. Revelation 16:19 . . .), whereas Daniel saw the true character of Gentile world government as rapacious and warlike, established and maintained by force. It is remarkable that the heraldic insignia of the Gentile nations are all beasts or birds of prey." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 907.]

Verse 4

The first beast looked like a lion, but it also had wings like an eagle. Other biblical writers had compared Nebuchadnezzar to a lion and an eagle (cf. Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:17; Jeremiah 50:44; Jeremiah 49:22; Lamentations 4:19; Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 17:12; Habakkuk 1:8). As Daniel watched, something plucked this beast’s wings off, made it stand on two feet like a man, and gave it a human mind or nature. Many nations have used the lion as a symbol of royal power because it is the traditional king of beasts (cf. 1 Kings 10:20; 2 Chronicles 9:19). Similarly the eagle has long represented the king of birds (cf. Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 17:7). Almost all interpreters, conservative and critical, believe this lion represents Neo-Babylonia. Huge winged lions guarded the gates of the royal Babylonian palaces. [Note: Walvoord, p. 153.] Babylon used both the lion and the eagle as national emblems (cf. Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 4:13; Ezekiel 17:3). The cropping of the lion’s wings may allude to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4), [Note: Leupold, pp. 289-90; Archer, "Daniel," p. 85.] or perhaps to the deterioration of his kingdom after his death. [Note: Feinberg, p. 86. Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 713, believed Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and Belshazzar (ch. 5) are in view.] After Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling by God, he became more humane. [Note: For additional study of prophecies about Babylon, see John F. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy, pp. 61-69.]

Verse 5

The second beast resembled a bear. The Old Testament writers spoke of the bear as the most formidable beast of prey in Palestine after the lion (cf. 1 Samuel 17:34; Amos 5:19; cf. 2 Kings 2:24; Hosea 13:8). [Note: See Driver, p. 82.] The bear that Daniel saw appeared stronger on one side than the other. This probably reflects the superior strength of the Persian part of the Medo-Persian Empire (cf. Daniel 8:3; Daniel 8:20).

The three ribs in the bear’s teeth probably stand for three nations or three parts of one nation that Medo-Persia had devoured, was devouring, or would devour. When Daniel saw this vision, Medo-Persia had not yet overthrown Babylonia, so perhaps these were nations of less prominence that it had conquered. Some scholars believe the ribs refer to the Babylonian, Lydian, and Egyptian Empires, all of which Medo-Persia conquered eventually. [Note: Young, p. 145; Archer, "Daniel," p. 86; Whitcomb, p. 95; Wiersbe, p. 282.] Others suggest that they may refer to Media, Persia, and Babylon, the three major components of the Medo-Persian Empire. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, Daniel . . ., p. 156.]

Daniel heard voices (angelic?) encouraging the bear to devour much meat. This probably indicates that it would yet subdue many nations. Medo-Persia ruled for 208 years before Alexander the Great toppled it in 331 B.C., and its geographic extent was far-reaching. Leadership in the ancient Near East passed from Assyria to Babylon in 612 B.C., from Babylon to Medo-Persia in 539 B.C., and from Medo-Persia to Greece in 331 B.C.

Verse 6

Most conservative Bible students have identified the third kingdom with Greece, because Greece overthrew Medo-Persia ("dominion was given to it"), and it bore the characteristics of the animal described here. Leopards (or panthers [Note: Young, p. 145-46.] ) are less majestic and ponderous than lions and bears. Their outstanding characteristics are their speed, strength, and cunning (cf. Jeremiah 5:6; Hosea 13:7; Habakkuk 1:8). The four wings on this leopard’s back made it even faster.

"With the swiftness of a leopard, Alexander the Great conquered most of the civilized world all the way from Macedonia to Africa and eastward to India [334-331 B.C.]. The lightning character of his conquests is without precedent in the ancient world, and this is fully in keeping with the image of speed embodied in the leopard itself and the four wings on its back." [Note: Walvoord, Daniel . . ., p. 157.]

Apparently each wing had some connection with each of this animal’s four heads. Heads suggest intelligent direction. Greece had four governmental divisions with one person heading each division. Following Greece’s defeat at Ipsus, in Phrygia, in 301 B.C., the Grecian Empire irretrievably divided into four parts under Alexander’s four generals.

There is some question about who these four men were. Jerome and Calvin believed they were Ptolemy, Seleucus, Philip, and Antigonus. [Note: Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, p. 75; John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel , 2:18-19.] Most modern commentators think they were Lysimachus (who ruled Thrace and Bithynia), Cassander (Macedonia and Greece), Seleucus (Syria, Babylonia, and the eastern territories), and Ptolemy (Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia Petrea). [Note: E.g., Keil, p. 293; Feinberg, pp. 87-88; and Whitcomb, p. 95.] Each of these successors ruled one of the geographical segments of Alexander’s empire: Greece, Western Asia, Egypt, and Persia. The exact identification of the rulers is debatable because it took about 20 years for the kingdom to be successfully divided. Still there is no question that Greece split into four major parts after Alexander died (cf. Daniel 8:8; Daniel 8:22).

A third conservative view, which I do not think is as strong, is that the four wings and heads represent the four corners of the earth. [Note: Young, p. 146.] Archer wrote the following in response to the critical claim that the third beast represents Persia.

". . . there is no way in which a quadripartite character can be made out for the Persian Empire either under Cyrus or under any of his successors." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 86. For additional responses to the critics’ view, see Leupold, p. 287, or Walvoord, Daniel . . ., pp. 158-59.]

Verse 7

Most conservative scholars believe that the fourth beast represents the Roman Empire, but critical scholars interpret it as referring to Greece. Walvoord called the identification of the fourth beast in chapter 7 "the crucial issue in the interpretation of the entire book of Daniel." [Note: Ibid., p. 159.]

In contrast to Greece, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire was slow. It began in 241 B.C. with the occupation of Sicily. Gradually it expanded throughout the whole Mediterranean world: western Europe including Britain, Gaul, and Spain; and western Asia as far east as the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. It formally ended in the Western Roman Empire in A.D. 410 when the Visigoths sacked Rome. However, its governmental influence persisted as late as A.D. 1453, when the last Roman ruler died in battle in Constantinople. [Note: For a brief history of Rome, see idem, The Nations . . ., pp. 83-87. For a longer one, see C. E. Van Sickle, A Political and Cultural History of the Ancient World, vol. 2. The standard and most exhaustive ancient history is the 12-volume Cambridge Ancient History, edited by Bury, Cook, and Adcock.]

Daniel did not compare the fourth beast that he saw to any known animal. It was unique. It was dreadful, terrifying, and extremely strong. Its large iron teeth chewed up what it attacked, and its feet crushed and trampled everything left by the former beasts.

". . . the Roman empire was ruthless in its destruction of civilizations and peoples, killing captives by the thousands and selling them into slavery by the hundreds of thousands." [Note: Walvoord, Daniel . . ., p. 161.]

"Rome had no interest in raising the conquered nations to any high level of development. All her designs were imperial; let the nations be crushed and stamped underfoot." [Note: Leupold, pp. 297-98.]

The identification of the 10 horns of this beast is more difficult. There is some obvious similarity between these 10 horns and the (10, by inference) toes of the image in chapter 2. They apparently represent 10 contemporaneous rulers (Daniel 7:17). Horns pictured strength and rulers in ancient Near Eastern iconography, yet scholars have not been able to agree on the identification of 10 outstanding rulers of the Roman Empire who ruled simultaneously.

There are two basic views about the identity of the 10 horns. First, some scholars spiritualize the number 10 as well as the number three (Daniel 7:8). That is, they do not take them literally. Almost all interpreters in this camp are amillennial. "Amillennial" refers to the belief that Jesus Christ will not reign on the earth for one thousand years in any literal sense. Of these interpreters, some believe these Numbers , 10 and three, refer to past rulers even though we cannot identify them. Young took the number 10 as figuratively indicating completeness. [Note: Young, pp. 148-50.] Others believe these 10 refer to future rulers who will appear at the second coming of Jesus Christ. [Note: Leupold, p. 308.] Still others believe the number refers generally to those who will reign with Christ in the future in heaven.

Second, some scholars believe we should take the Numbers 10 and three literally, since that is how we take most other numbers in the book. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, Archer, Pentecost, Wood, Feinberg, Campbell, Ironside, and Culver.] There is no clue in the text that we should interpret these numbers non-literally. This more consistent method of interpretation is what characterizes premillennialism. Premillennialists believe that prophecy, if interpreted literally, teaches that Jesus Christ will rule on the earth for 1,000 years following his Second Coming. Even amillennialists acknowledge that if one interprets prophecy consistently literally he or she will come out a premillennialist. They do not do so, however, because they believe that such a literal interpretation yields fanciful results. Consequently, they argue, we should adopt a different hermeneutic (method of interpretation) when reading prophecy, namely, a less literal one.

Most premillenarians believe that the 10 horns describe 10 rulers who will arise in the future and reign simultaneously. This obviously seems unlikely, since the Roman Empire is no longer in existence. However, there seem to be indications in Daniel and elsewhere in the Bible, which I will point out later, that God will revive or reestablish the Roman Empire in the future.

Verse 8

Daniel noticed an eleventh horn arising among the 10, which displaced three of the 10 horns. This horn had human eyes, probably symbolic of intelligence, and a mouth that spoke boastfully (cf. Daniel 7:11; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:25). This is evidently Antichrist (cf. Isaiah 27:1; Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3; Revelation 13; Revelation 17; Revelation 19). Daniel saw another "little horn" in another vision that he reported having (Daniel 8:9-11). However, the differences between these two little horns argue for their being different rulers, as my comments on Daniel 8:9-11 will show. Rulers represent the nations that they lead, as well as the rulers themselves (cf. Daniel 7:17; Daniel 7:23).

Verse 9

In some English versions, this verse and some that follow (Daniel 7:10; Daniel 7:13-14) are in poetic form. This indicates a difference in the original language (Aramaic), which sets these verses off as distinct and more elevated in literary style, in the opinion of the translators. From what Daniel recorded, it seems clear that now he saw something happening in the courts of heaven. He saw thrones set up. The AV translation "thrones were cast down" is inaccurate. The Apostle John later saw thrones in heaven too (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 20:4; et al.). The "Ancient of Days" seems to refer to God the Father (cf. Daniel 7:13; Daniel 7:22; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 57:15), whereas in Daniel 7:13, God the Son is in view. Gaebelein took "the Ancient of Days" as a reference to Jesus Christ here (cf. John 5:22; Revelation 1:12-14), but this seems less likely (cf. Daniel 7:13). [Note: Gaebelein, p. 77.] Daniel then saw God take His seat on His heavenly throne.

The title "Ancient of Days" stresses God’s eternality. His pure white clothing pictures His purity and holiness, and His pure woolly hair suggests His mature judgment. Daniel saw His throne blazing with fire (lit. a burning flame), symbolic of knowledge, purity, and judgment in Scripture (cf. Exodus 3:2; Deuteronomy 4:24; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 12:29; Revelation 1:14-15). The wheels probably imply that the throne and God can go in any direction, that He can do anything He pleases (cf. Ezekiel 1:13-21). [Note: For similar descriptions of the Canaanite pantheon in Canaanite myth, see John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, p. 106.]

Verses 9-12

2. The Ancient of Days and the destruction of the fourth beast 7:9-12

Verse 10

A river of fire was flowing out from before the throne of God the Father, probably symbolizing judgment proceeding from Him. Those attending Him were evidently angels (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2). The court (cf. Daniel 7:26) seems to be a heavenly venue in which God renders judgment on rulers and their nations based on their deeds (Job 1-2; Isaiah 65:6; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 20:12; cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

Verse 11

The return to prose language signals the shift in Daniel’s observation from heaven to earth, and the content of the revelation confirms this change. The boastful words of "the horn" (Daniel 7:8) kept attracting Daniel’s attention. God passed judgment on the fourth beast and destroyed it along with all its horns (cf. Luke 21:24-27; Revelation 19:20). Similarly, the stone cut out without hands crushed the toes of the image in chapter 2-suddenly and violently.

Verse 12

The end of the prior three empires contrasts with the end of this fourth one. God took away the dominion of each of the earlier three kingdoms one by one, but they continued to exist, as realms of the kingdom that overcame them, for some time. However, God will cut off the fourth empire completely, and it will continue no longer (Daniel 7:11). Thus the end of the fourth kingdom will result in a totally new condition on the earth: Messiah’s thousand-year reign (cf. Revelation 19:19 to Revelation 20:6).

Verse 13

Daniel again saw something happening in heaven (cf. Revelation 5:1-10). One like "a son of man" was brought before the Ancient of Days. The angelic attendants in heaven’s court probably ushered Him forward. This description glorifies the Ancient of Days, who then proceeded to give this Person authority to rule on earth (cf. Psalms 2:6; Psalms 110:1-2). The One like the son of man has similarities with human beings, as the title "son of man" implies. However, He comes with clouds of heaven, which elsewhere in Scripture describes how God has come to earth (cf. Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 19:9; Exodus 19:16; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Psalms 18:10; Isaiah 19:1; Jeremiah 4:13; Ezekiel 10:4; et al.). Thus, this One like a son of man appears to be a God-man (cf. Philippians 2:6-7). [Note: See the commentaries for refutations of the views that this "son of man" was an angel, or the Israelites, or just a normal man.] The fact that this refers to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, becomes clear later in the Gospels where Jesus used the title "Son of Man" more frequently of Himself than any other (cf. Mark 8:31; John 1:51; et al.). Other passages also describe Jesus Christ as coming in the clouds in the future (cf. Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Acts 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 1:7).

Because Jesus commonly used the title "Son of Man" to describe Himself, this is the most frequently quoted verse from Daniel in the New Testament. It is very significant that Jesus used this title above all others when describing Himself, some 31 times in Matthew alone.

"Although Messiah had already been named as God’s ’Son’ in previous prophetic utterances (cf. [2 Samuel 7:14;] Psalms 2:7; Psalms 2:12; Proverbs 30:4), He is now given a name that emphasizes His true and total identification with mankind." [Note: Whitcomb, p. 99.]

Jesus’ contemporaries used the title "Messiah" to describe a merely human leader who they believed would provide military liberation from their Roman oppressors. This limited understanding of Messiah’s role made that title undesirable from Jesus’ viewpoint, so He did not normally refer to himself as the Messiah. The title "Son of Man" should have taken Jesus’ hearers back to Daniel 7:13, where clearly a God-man is in view. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were willing to trust Him as their Messiah, but few were willing to acknowledge Him as the divine Son of Man (cf. Matthew 16:16; John 6:69). Jesus wanted them to believe that He was God-as well as man-and so preferred the title "Son of Man." This title was also the one by which God normally referred to the prophet Ezekiel. But Ezekiel was obviously not the Son of Man predicted here. This title, when used of Ezekiel, stressed his humanity in contrast to more glorious beings, especially God.

"It is no exaggeration to say that no other concept in the Old Testament, not even the Servant of the Lord, has elicited a more prolific literature. Of all the figures used in the Old Testament to designate the coming deliverer; king, priest, branch, servant, seed-none is more profound than ’Son of man’. Here there is a vision of man as he was intended to be, perfectly embodying all his potential in obedience to his Creator." [Note: Baldwin, p. 154.]

"Thus the coming Messiah would not only be the true David, but He would also be the true Son of man, combining in His person the high calling of humanity and the position reserved alone for God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 246.]

Verses 13-14

3. The Son of Man’s kingdom 7:13-14

Verse 14

Now this Son of Man became the prominent Person in the vision. He received dominion and glory and a kingdom from the Ancient of Days.

"This refers, not to his inherent sovereignty over the universe as God the Son (as consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit), but to his appointment as absolute Lord and Judge by virtue of his atoning ministry as God incarnate-the one who achieved a sinless life (Isaiah 53:9), paid the price for man’s redemption (Isaiah 53:5-6), and was vindicated by his bodily resurrection as Judge of the entire human race (Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16)." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 91.]

God’s intention in giving the Son of Man this authority (cf. Matthew 28:18) was that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. He was to have global rule over everyone. Furthermore His kingdom would last forever in contrast to the preceding four kingdoms. Succeeding kingdoms destroyed preceding kingdoms, but no kingdom will ever destroy His kingdom (cf. Psalms 2:6-9; Psalms 72:11; Isaiah 11; Revelation 19:15-16; Revelation 20:1-6). This is a fifth kingdom, corresponding to the stone cut out without hands in chapter 2, that destroys the fourth kingdom and all preceding kingdoms.

Did Jesus’ coming to the earth in the first century destroy the Roman Empire? We could only say yes if we interpreted the destruction of the fourth kingdom in a non-literal way. I choose not to do this because the destruction of the previous kingdoms was literal. It seems that we should also expect that the destruction of the fourth kingdom by the fifth kingdom will be literal. Therefore the second coming of Christ must be the initiation of the fifth kingdom and the final destruction of the fourth kingdom. If this is so, then the prophetic picture that Daniel saw did not include the present age in which we live (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). This conclusion has seemed reasonable to some amillenarians as well as to premillenarians. [Note: See Leupold, pp. 313-14.]

Verses 15-16

Even though Daniel understood all kinds of visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17), much of what he had just seen baffled and alarmed him (cf. Daniel 7:28). He now saw himself participating in the events of his vision. He evidently addressed his question to an angel (cf. Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21). The fourth beast, and particularly the little horn, were the parts of the vision that he could not understand and most interested him.

Verses 15-18

4. The interpretation of the four beasts 7:15-18

Verse 17

The interpreter gave Daniel a general answer to his question. He stressed that each of the four beasts represented a king (or kingdom, cf. Daniel 7:23). They arose from the earth’s population, which is what the sea symbolized (Daniel 7:2; cf. Isaiah 17:12-13; Isaiah 57:20-21; Jeremiah 46:7-8).

"The ’four kings’ obviously refer to four kingdoms, as the beasts represent both a king and a kingdom." [Note: Walvoord, Daniel . . ., p. 172.]

Verse 18

The saints of the Highest One (Daniel 7:22; Daniel 7:25; Daniel 7:27) probably refer to believers of all ages (Daniel 7:27). [Note: Ibid.; Campbell, p. 85.] J. Dwight Pentecost wrote that they are believing Jews alive when Christ returns, "not believers of the Church age," since God did not reveal the church’s existence in the Old Testament. [Note: Pentecost, p. 1352.] They will receive the (fifth) kingdom and will possess it forever. People will have a share in the Son of Man’s everlasting kingdom after He establishes it. This involves reigning with Christ (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:5). This kingdom will begin with the return of Christ to the earth, continue for one thousand years on the earth, and then continue in the new heavens and new earth forever. This scenerio corrects the objection of some that this kingdom cannot be millennial since the angel said it would last forever. [Note: E.g., Young, p. 157.]

"The reason for emphasizing the participation of God’s people in the final kingdom seems to be that it is a literal, earthly kingdom, replacing the previous empires of men, rather than a spiritual domain, a sort of ideal kingdom of God consisting only of the Lord himself." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 93.]

Verses 19-22

5. Daniel’s request for interpretation of the fourth beast 7:19-22

Daniel repeated the descriptions of the fourth beast and the little horn, and in doing so mentioned four previously unrevealed details about them. The beast had claws of bronze, stressing its fierce nature (Daniel 7:19). The little horn was more prominent than the other horns, accounting for its ability to rise in the place of three other horns (Daniel 7:20). The little horn waged war with the saints and overcame them, which explains one reason for God’s final judgment of him (Daniel 7:21; cf. Revelation 11:7; Revelation 12:13-17; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 17:17). Daniel seems to have had particular concern about the fate of the saints whom the little horn overpowered. Finally, God passed judgment in favor of His saints, further indicating the importance of the saints in God’s actions. "Ancient of Days" and "Highest One" appear to be two titles of God the Father, stressing His eternality and sovereignty, respectively.

Verse 23

The interpreting angel now granted the prophet more insight about the fourth beast and particularly about the little horn. Here the dual identification of the beasts with kings and kingdoms becomes transparent. The fourth beast does not only represent a king (Daniel 7:17), but also a kingdom. The angel repeated the facts already revealed (Daniel 7:7), but clarified that the previous description referred to a kingdom.

The phrase "whole earth" does not necessarily mean the whole planet (cf. Luke 2:1). The Old Testament generally uses this term to refer "to the entire territory of the Near and Middle East that in any way relates to the Holy Land." [Note: Ibid.] Another view is that a "one-world government under a worldwide dictator" is in view. [Note: Pentecost, p. 1354.] Later revelation seems to support the second view (Revelation 13).

Verses 23-25

6. The interpretation of the fourth beast 7:23-25

Verses 24-25

One difference between the description of the little horn here and earlier (Daniel 7:8), is that here the little horn is a king, not a kingdom. Another is that he will be different from the previous 10 kings (cf. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:12). His boastful words will be against the Most High and His saints (Daniel 7:25). He will wear down the saints, evidently by persecution (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9; Revelation 12:13-17; Revelation 13:1-10; Revelation 13:16-17). He will also desire to make changes in times (the calendar?) and in law. Archer recorded an interesting account of an unsuccessful attempt during the French Revolution to replace the Christian (Gregorian) calendar with a Revolutionary calendar. [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 94.] Someone, obviously the sovereign God, will allow this ruler to have his way for "a time, times, and half a time" (cf. Daniel 12:7). Even some liberal interpreters concede that this is a period of three and one-half years (cf. Daniel 4:16; Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 13:5). [Note: E.g., Montgomery, p. 312.] Young took it to stand for a period of testing and judgment in a metaphorical sense without specifying its length. [Note: Young, p. 162.] This three and one-half year period evidently refers to the last three and one-half years before the little horn’s destruction and the return of Jesus Christ. This corresponds to the "Great Tribulation," the phrase Jesus used to describe the last half (three and one-half years) of the seven-year Tribulation (Matthew 24:21).

"When the hordes from the north conquered the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D., they did not unite to form another empire. Instead individual nations emerged out of the old Roman Empire. Some of those nations and others stemming from them have continued till the present day. The present Age, then, is the 10-horned era of the fourth beast. (Other premillenarians, however, hold that the time of the 10 horns is yet future, that the present Church Age is not seen in this vision, and that 10 kings will coexist over a future revived [or realigned] Roman Empire.)" [Note: Pentecost, p. 1354.]

"The ten-nation confederacy of the future anticipated in these prophecies would naturally be considered a revival of the Roman Empire if for no other reason than that it is portrayed as an integral part of the fourth empire." [Note: John F. Walvoord, "Revival of Rome," Bibliotheca Sacra 126:504 (October-December 1969):317-28.]

"Our Lord ministered on earth three and a half years, and the Antichrist shall enact his Satanic ministry for the same length of time." [Note: Joseph A. Seiss, Voices from Babylon: Or the Records of Daniel the Prophet, p. 311.]

Young also believed a literal Antichrist is in view in this passage. [Note: Young, p. 163.]

Verse 26

The angel continued to explain that the heavenly court (Daniel 7:10) would pass judgment on the little horn, and God will remove his dominion and destroy it forever (Daniel 7:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:20).

Verses 26-28

7. The end of the fourth beast and the beginning of the everlasting kingdom 7:26-28

Verse 27

The fifth kingdom, under the Son of Man’s leadership (Daniel 7:14), will then commence. This fact argues for the normative dispensational interpretation, which understands the kingdom of God on earth as beginning with Christ’s second coming, rather than with His first coming (cf. Daniel 2:44). The angel again stressed the role that the saints will have in this kingdom. The phrase "the people of the saints of the Holy One" (NASB) is unusual. This may indicate a particular group of the saints (believers), probably the Jews who, according to other Scripture, will be God’s focus of blessing during His earthly kingdom. However, the rendering "the saints, [namely,] the people of the Most High" (NIV) is a good translation. In this case it is the saints generally who are in view, not a special group of them. [Note: Cf. Barker, pp. 139-43.]

The Son of Man’s kingdom will be endless and worldwide. Notice that the titles "Highest One" (God the Father) and "His [the Son of Man’s]" are interchangeable, pointing to the deity of the Son of Man. This verse also clarifies that the saints are not the same as the Son of Man, "saints" being plural and "His" and "Him" singular. The kingdom is not just the rule of the saints; it is the rule of the Son of Man in which the saints participate.

"It is not difficult to see that Daniel more than almost any other author is concerned with the kingdom theme." [Note: Merrill, "Daniel as . . .," p. 225.]

Verse 28

Daniel indicated the end of the vision, and added that what he had seen and heard alarmed and terrified him. His pale face evidently resulted from his fear, as he contemplated the severe trials and persecutions awaiting his people. He originally kept this revelation to himself, perhaps because he realized that it might prove explosive if he announced it immediately.

There appear to be two specific sets of prophecies of the future in chapter 7, in addition to what would happen within Daniel’s lifetime. First, there are prophecies that deal with coming world empires that appeared (to Daniel) as regular nations. Then there are the predictions about the end of the fourth kingdom and the beginning of the fifth kingdom, which are still future events from our standpoint in history. The gap between these times was undoubtedly unclear to Daniel (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2; 1 Peter 1:10-11).

Culver summarized the evidence for the premillennial understanding of chapter 7 as follows.

"(1) Messiah’s kingdom follows Antichrist’s appearance (here described in personal rather than institutional terms), and destruction. The person has not yet appeared. This appears to make post- and a-millennial schemes identifying the Church with the Kingdom unfeasible. (2) The kingdom of Messiah here follows the Gentile kingdoms; it is at no time contemporary with them. It must, therefore, be still future. (3) The kingdom of Christ succeeds a final form of Gentile dominion which has not yet appeared. (4) The Messianic kingdom is external in aspect here, not a kingdom in men’s hearts, as Church-Kingdom theology require. (5) This kingdom is in some sense Israelitish (cf. Daniel 7:7; Daniel 7:22; Daniel 7:25; Daniel 7:27 with Daniel 8:24). The ’saints’ or holy people referred to here are Israel and no other. The Church is not a Jewish kingdom." [Note: Culver, "Daniel," p. 791.]

Comparisons between Daniel 2, 7
Daniel 2Daniel 7
Nebuchadnezzar’s imageThe four beasts
Given to NebuchadnezzarGiven to Daniel
4 kingdoms + 1 in view4 kingdoms + 1 in view
A 4-part image + a stone4 beasts + the Son of Man
More generalMore detailed
Daniel interpreted it.An angel interpreted it.
Man’s viewpointGod’s viewpoint
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Daniel 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/daniel-7.html. 2012.
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