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Daniel 7 is the first chapter of the second part of the book. History is not continued, as we return to the first year of Belshazzar (Dan 7:1). In this second part we have four visions, the first in Daniel 7, the second in Daniel 8, the third in the last part of Daniel 9 and the fourth in Daniel 10-12. They’re all dated differently. They are about the further histories of the world empires and how the little people of God will experience in them. Daniel 7 and 9 are about the West, the empire of Western Europe, Daniel 8 and 10-12 about the East.
The Dream and Visions of Daniel
Belshazzar is the last king of Babylon, as we have seen in Daniel 5. In the first year of his government Daniel gets a dream. In that dream he sees some visions. It is shown to him that the empire of Belshazzar, the Babylonian empire, will be destroyed. He also sees a second, third and even fourth empire. Those empires too will all perish. It also becomes clear from the dream that the eternal kingdom, that of the Lord Jesus, does not come during the Babylonian or Medo-Persian empire, not even during the third, but during the fourth empire, the Roman.
That there will be four empires that will all perish, has been already made clear to him in Daniel 2 in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue. Here it is about the same four world empires. However, they are seen here from another perspective. What is new is that the vision is not shown to Nebuchadnezzar, but to Daniel. This time the empires are also not shown in the form of a statue that makes a great impression, with beautiful metals, as people like to see the empires.
Here God shows the empires, as He sees them, in their corrupt character, as unreasoning beasts. Beasts are beings without any recognition of God, beings who have no knowledge and understanding of Divine things. God also shows what these empires will do to His people when in their lack of understanding they turn against the saints. God wants to speak to our hearts through this. He wants to show that He knows the future and that He is above the empires and their striving. He knows how to use them for His purpose: the purification of His people.
As said, Daniel will not see one, but a few visions in this chapter. When we read the chapter, it turns out to be three. We see that three verses begin with the reference to a vision (Dan 7:2; 7; 13) and that two times an interpretation follows (Dan 7:16; 23).
1. The first vision, starting in Dan 7:2, is about the first three empires, represented by three beasts.
2. The second vision, from Dan 7:7 onwards, is about the fourth beast or empire.
3. The third vision is found in Dan 7:13-14 and is about the eternal kingdom or the kingdom of the Son of man.
4. From Dan 7:16 the first interpretation follows and from Dan 7:23 the second interpretation.
Daniel writes down the dream. He records what he has seen, that is to say, as he himself says, the “summary of it”. After having had his dream, he thought about it and considered what it means. That is what the LORD has given him in his thoughts. This has enabled him to write down everything that is important and makes the interpretation clear. So it has been preserved for the generations to come and also for us.
The Origin of the Beasts
Daniel tells us that in his vision he saw four great beasts coming up from the great sea. The great sea represents the turbulent mass of the nations (Isa 17:12). This picture shows that out of the sea of nations at that time, four world empires come up successively. The four winds indicate the spiritual powers behind this turbulence. They are the spiritual powers in the heavenly places.
The following verses describe the development of the four empires. Not many words are devoted to the first three empires. The fourth realm in contrast is described in detail.
The First Three Beasts
The first empire appears in the form of a lion. This represents the Babylonian empire (Jer 50:17; Jer 4:6-7; 13; Jer 49:19; 22). The lion has wings of an eagle. This points to the enormous speed with which the beast attacks its prey. But these wings are also plucked. The rapid expansion of power is coming to an end. The fact that this empire is then compared with a human being shows that this empire is reduced to its true meaning. It is over with all power.
The second empire appears in the form of a bear. This represents the Medo-Persian empire. The two components of this empire is indicated by the peculiarity that “it was raised up on one side”. That means that there is a predominant side in this two-party kingdom. These are the Persians. It is the Persian Cyrus who through his entire empire circulated a proclamation regarding the return of the Jews to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1). The three ribs that the bear has in its mouth may be seen in three directions of the wind and the areas that lie there that are captured by the Medes and Persians (Dan 8:4). This empire has an insatiable hunger for more conquests. It is urged to do so by a power from outside.
The third empire is the Greek-Macedonian empire and appears in the form of a leopard. A leopard is an extraordinarily fast beast. It symbolizes the speed with which the emperor of the Greek-Macedonian empire, Alexander the Great, overwhelmed the previous empire. His government lasted only thirteen years, from 336-323 BC, but in that short time he conquered the entire Medo-Persian empire and many more outside. He is only thirty-three years old when he dies.
This leopard has four wings and four heads. This seems to indicate that Alexander was able to carry out his quick conquests thanks to the support of his four generals (four wings). After his death these four generals divide his empire between each other. The four heads represent these generals as the rulers who each gain authority over a quarter of the empire. Alexander is the head of the empire himself. Power is given to him.
The Fourth Beast
Finally, the fourth empire appears in the form of a terrifying beast. This characteristic of frightfulness is also mentioned in connection with the iron of the statue (Dan 2:31). This beast has no name. It has no resemblance to any of the beasts created by God. Daniel can only describe it. The description gives the impression that we are dealing with a machine that devours everything within its reach without any compassion.
It resembles a beast that only occurs in nightmares, but to which unscrupulous people today give shape in various computer games. All those who seek their amusement in games in which a monster swallows up and crushes everything, will less and less recognize the terrifying character of the monster that will appear on the world stage soon.
The monster has ten horns, which indicates that the empire consists of ten parts. The first empire is a unity, the second empire consists of two parts and the third empire is divided into four parts. However, the difference between the first three empires and the fourth empire is not only numerical. The difference is, above all, that this fourth empire in its history never consisted of ten parts, as in the previous empires there is unity or they consist of two or four parts. But as we have already seen in Daniel 2, that event will become a fact in the (near) future. We see the signs of it in the unification of Europe.
Daniel’s attention is drawn by the horns. As he looks closely at them, he sees how, at the expense of three horns, an eleventh, little one, elevates himself above all the horns. As a special feature of this little horn he notes that it represents a human being. He perceives eyes as human eyes and a mouth full of boasting. The person portrayed in this horn is extremely astute and also very presumptuous in his use of language, particularly blaming God, Christ, and the believers.
A Glimpse Into God’s Court
Daniel also sees that “thrones” (pay attention to the plural!) are set up. A throne speaks of government, but also of justice. At that moment, Daniel, as an Old Testament believer, cannot be told who will take their place on these thrones. They are vaguely referred to by the term “court” (Dan 7:10). In the light of the New Testament we know who this will be. The book of Revelation shows that on these thrones the believers of the Old Testament and New Testament will sit, represented in twenty-four elders (Rev 4:4; Rev 20:4).
Daniel does see that on one particular throne Someone takes His seat, namely “the Ancient of Days”. ‘The Ancient of Days’ is God. The appearance and behavior, presented in the “vesture” of this Ancient of Days, indicate that He is perfectly pure and holy. His Person radiates impeccable and powerful respectability, which is given an extra accent by “the hair of His head” that is “like pure wool”. The description of the Ancient of Days corresponds to that of the Lord Jesus as the Son of Man (Rev 1:13-15). It is one of the many proofs in Scripture that the Lord Jesus is God.
The characteristics of the throne of the Ancient of Days indicate a consuming judgment that is exercised without any mitigation and without any resistance being possible. For the execution of the judgment countless angels are at His service. Before the judgment is carried out, proof of its fairness shall be provided. The books will be opened. These books contain a flawless record of the charges (cf. Rev 20:12). No one who is judged shall have any reason to question or contradict the reason for his conviction. No one shall have a reply (Mt 22:12).
The fact that there are wheels on the throne indicates that the government of God is dynamic. The fact that the wheels are of burning fire means that He judges iniquity. He is the acting God. God’s government is in motion, a movement that always goes forward. God has a purpose, He always works towards it. For this He leads the course of history and events. He is the One Who was and is, and also the One Who comes, in which we see Him acting (Rev 1:8).
The trial focuses on “the horn” that speaks “boastful words”. Those boastful words become the reason for his condemnation. They are the expression of a total rejection and slander of God. That is why the beast is slain. Note the change from horn to beast. The beast and the horn represent the same. The horn is the ruler, the beast is the revived Roman empire. In the horn we see the representative of that empire. After the beast is slain, its body is destroyed and thrown into the lake of fire. The fact that its body is destroyed does not mean that this person ceases to exist, for as the first living being, the beast, along with the false prophet, ends up in hell (Rev 19:20).
With this judgment of the beast and the fourth empire, the rule of the other empires is also taken away. The other empires did not exist anymore as world empire. They were included in the next empires. That is to say, they had not fully ceased to exist. They still existed as empires, but without (world) rule. God has set the time of each empire.
In the end times, the times in which we live, we see that these empires take their place on the world stage again. In today’s Iraq, the former Babylon revives, Iran is the former Persia and Greece speaks for itself.
The Son of Man and His Dominion
Daniel continues to look on tensely. He perceives a new phenomenon, or rather a new appearance, which he describes as “One like a Son of Man”. This Person is none other than the Lord Jesus. In the Gospels the Lord Jesus regularly calls Himself ‘Son of man’. When He says to the Council: “Nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN”, this becomes the reason for the chief priests and scriptures to condemn Him: “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? … He deserves death!”” (Mt 26:64-66).
These corrupt leaders of the people know only too well that He cites Daniel 7 (Dan 7:13). That means to them – and rightly so! – that He declares Himself to be the Son of God. But their depravity is evident from this, that they condemn Him on the basis of this testimony. That is, the Lord Jesus is condemned for bearing witness concerning the truth of His own Person.
That in Daniel 7 with the Son of Man God Himself is meant, we also see in His “coming on the clouds of heaven”. Often in the Old Testament, the coming of God unto His people, or unto any other people, is accompanied by clouds (Exo 13:21; Deu 33:26; Isa 19:1). That He shows Himself from and surrounds Himself with clouds, enlarges the impression of His majesty.
If then the Son of man is God Himself, how can He come to the Ancient of Days, Who is undeniably also God, and receive the kingdom from His hands? Surely God cannot come to God to receive something, can He? Here we have a mystery that cannot be explained by human logic. This has to do with the inexplicable wonder of Christ in the glory of His Person since He became Man. He has become Man, yet without ceasing to be God.
The Gospels are full of evidence of the incomprehensibility of His Person. An example: He Who as a true Man is asleep because He is tired, aboard a ship, appears, when He is awakened by frightened disciples, to be the true and almighty God, Who silences the winds and waves with a word of power (Mk 4:38-39). The attentive reader of the Gospels will be able to add to this example many others. As for this secrecy concerning His Person, the Lord Jesus says: “No one knows the Son except the Father” (Mt 11:27a). What people cannot explain, we can believe and worship.
After killing the little horn, the fourth beast, and ending the reign of the other beasts, the way is clear for a totally different kingdom with a totally different Ruler. The fifth kingdom, and He Who is to be in charge thereof, is announced. The Ruler over that kingdom is different to all previous rulers and is characterized by two things. He is in the first place Someone to Whom God, because of the dignity of His Person, gives dominion and honor and royal power. But not only is He worthy, He is in the second place also able to rule over all nations. God subdues all nations to Him (Psa 8:6).
Not only His Person, but also His dominion has characteristics that fully differ from previous dominions. Thus His dominion is not limited to just one part of the earth, no matter how large that part might be, but He rules over the whole earth and in heaven. To Him “is given all power in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). Another characteristic of His dominion is that it is an eternal dominion. In the exercise of His government He will not fail. No one will resist Him. There will be no reason to do so. His government will be a blessing to the whole world. In all respects, His reign is an enormous contrast to any previous human government!
Daniel Wants to Know the Exact Meaning
What Daniel saw did not leave him unmoved. We may ask ourselves the question: “Does it bother me if the Lord shows me how things will be in the future?’ If Daniel doesn’t even know the meaning, it already makes a big impression. If he also knows it, all the color disappears from his face (Dan 7:28). The things of God do not primarily appeal to our intellect, but to our heart and conscience. God wants His communications to bring about something in us.
Daniel is distressed by what he has seen. He does not understand what it all means, but he does understand that it comes from God and that it has a meaning. He wants to know the exact meaning. Asking questions makes you wise, but we only get answers if we ask our questions in the right mind. God does not answer if we doubt the correctness of His Word. We get an answer when we acknowledge that we ourselves are not able to explain the meaning of His Word. This is the attitude we see in Daniel.
Daniel goes to someone – who is vaguely described, but it must be an angel – to ask for the interpretation. In the interpretation an element emerges that was not present in the vision, namely the saints of the Highest One. God’s people are involved in it.
A First Interpretation
The explanation of the four beasts is simple. They represent four kings arising from the earth. In Dan 7:3 it says that they arise from the sea. The interpretation confirms that the sea represents the sea of the nations. These are nations on earth who, like the sea, are in great turmoil. There is no peace and quiet. The angel speaks about the earth to show the contrast with the saints of the Highest One who are in heaven. The fact that the earth is spoken of here as the origin of these four kings or kingdoms, also makes the contrast with the fifth kingdom clear that will come after those four. That fifth kingdom comes from heaven and is governed by a heavenly government.
In the expression “the saints of the Highest One” we have a clue with reference to the saints of the Old Testament in their condition after death. It is possible that Paul thinks of these saints when he speaks of “the heavenly [places]” five times in the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:3; 20; Eph 2:6; Eph 3:10; Eph 6:12). He can speak about what is in heaven. There are saints in the heavenly places. They will arise at the rapture of the church and at the appearing of the Lord Jesus reign with Him for a thousand years. They don’t miss the kingdom. They experience it from the heavenly side.
In the interpretation Daniel is then told something that does not directly refer to something from his dream. In the dream Daniel saw how the Son of Man receives the reign. This is not said here in the interpretation. Instead, it is said that the “saints of the Highest One” receive the kingship. These saints are the believers who have committed their hearts to the LORD. They will have to suffer a lot, but they will also receive the kingdom, they will have a part in it. They enter the kingdom of peace of the Messiah. This significant addition means that the Lord Jesus will have co-rulers in His future reign.
What Is the Meaning of the Fourth Beast?
Before more is said about the reign of the saints, Daniel wants to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, of the ten horns, and of the little horn. His full interest goes to these extraordinary appearances with their special characteristics. For the other three beasts he doesn’t seem to have much attention. But what he saw in connection with the fourth beast made a deep impression on him. He once again mentions in detail its horrific characteristics.
It therefore appeals to him so much because he sees how the little horn fights against the saints. These are the saints on earth, of course not those in heaven. We have already seen in the explanation of Dan 7:7-8 that the little horn represents the mighty ruler of the restored Roman empire. This ruler aims his enmity against the saints of the people of God. The saints will be killed by the little horn.
But his success lasts as long as God allows it. There is talk of an “until” (Dan 7:22). The boundary is reached when the Ancient of Days, that is the Lord Jesus, comes. He comes to do justice to “the saints of the Highest One” who have been persecuted and killed by the little horn. At first it seemed as if they were the losers. Now comes the moment of truth. God reveals the law. God openly corrects the great injustice that has been done to them. The “saints” take “possession of the kingdom”, which means that the once persecuted ones, now become the rulers. They receive a kingdom, that is to say they have royal dominion and reign together with the Lord Jesus in the kingdom of peace.
This seems to contradict Dan 7:13-14. We saw there that the kingdom is given to the Lord Jesus, while here we see that the kingdom is given to the saints. The solution is that the saints of the Highest One are glorified saints who together with the Lord Jesus will reign over the universe. These saints are the believers of the church, the believers of the Old Testament and the believers who will be on earth during the seventh week of years after the rapture of the church.
In that government with Christ there is a distinction between the believers of the church and the other believers. The believers of the church will reign in the closest connection with Christ as His body (Eph 1:10; 22-23). The other believers will sit on thrones with royal authority and rule the earth as representatives of the great King (Rev 20:4).
The Meaning of the Fourth Beast
In the interpretation, the characteristics of the fourth beast are first listed again. The fourth beast is the fourth kingdom, which is the restored Western Roman empire, or the united Europe. In the ten horns on its one head we see on the one hand the unity of the empire represented which on the other hand consists of ten separate empires. No empire is as violent as this empire.
Then another horn arises. As the fourth empire differs from the previous empires, so does the last horn differ from the ten horns. The ten states, represented in the ten horns, will voluntarily give all their power in the hand of a single ruler, that is the little horn. That is the difference with the previous empires, all of which were created by subjugation of the peoples. The difference between the little horn and the ten is that he will eliminate three and possess an unprecedented power that he will exercise in unparalleled wickedness.
With this power he will turn in a satanic way against God and His people who are then on earth. He can only do something against God with his mouth. Because he cannot reach God with his deeds, he will with satanic pleasure persecute all those who belong to God to destroy them and thereby also provoke God. For this purpose, he will make alterations in times and in law in a way that will make service to the true God impossible. This shows that it is not about the church, for the service of the church to God is not governed by times and laws, but is a service in spirit and truth (Jn 4:21-24). Moreover, the church is already in heaven.
Also this end time fact of the change of times and laws casts its shadow forward. We can apply it to the voices that are becoming louder and louder in our days to banish everything that reminds us of God and Christ from society. Intolerance against all that is Christian is growing more and more.
Because God allows it, the little horn will be able to turn against all those who stand in his way, especially those who want to serve God. For this he gets a certain, but limited time span. God determines the boundary (cf. Job 1:12a; Job 2:6). This is indicated here by “a time, times, and half a time”. This period, also known as the time of the “great tribulation” (Mt 24:21; Rev 7:14) or a “time of distress” (Dan 12:1; Jer 30:7), lasts three and a half years. This is expressed in the terms used, where ‘a time’ stands for one year, ‘times’ for two years, and ‘half a time’ for half a year (cf. Dan 9:27; Dan 12:7; Rev 11:2-3; Rev 12:6; 14; Rev 13:5).
Finally, Daniel is informed with remarkable clarity and without any fuss of words of the end of the reign of this anti-godly person. Nothing remains of all his boasting and all his power. This paves the way for the introduction of an empire that is completely different, both in terms of its ruler and in terms of its rule.
The Everlasting Kingdom
The bragging of the presumptuous little horn, the boasting fourth world ruler, is silenced. Now it is the turn of “the people of the saints of the Highest One”. Those who have suffered so much and waited so long will receive “the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of [all] the kingdoms under the whole heaven”. What a compensation for all the injustice suffered! What a reward for patience. What a blessing from God for their trust in Him.
God fulfils His promises. He keeps His pledges. He does so in an overwhelming way. His people will have the promised dominion over the earth. His people will be the center of blessing and the means by which the whole earth will be blessed. All nations will honor His people for it. All contempt is over and forgotten.
As noted in Dan 7:18, we hear of the rule of the saints and not the rule of the Son of man. That does not mean, however, that the reign of the saints is separate from that of the Son of man. At the end of this verse is spoken of “His kingdom”, which is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Only because it is His kingdom, it is an everlasting kingdom. All who have been given dominion by Him will honor and obey Him. If His people rule, it is through Him. He gives His directions, He is the sovereign Ruler. He is the true source of blessing. All that His people give as a blessing to others is the passing on of the blessing that comes from Him. How great is He! He is worth all honor and worship.
It is still important to point out that the full meaning of this verse only becomes clear to us in the light of the New Testament. There is talk of a reign of Christ together with His saints (2Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26; Rev 3:21; Rev 5:10; Rev 20:4). There is not a single blessing imaginable that a believer will enjoy apart from Christ. Every blessing that a believer has, he owes to Christ and he can only really enjoy it in fellowship with Him.
This applies in a special way to the church. She is the New Testament people of God. Every member of the church is blessed “with all spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Eph 1:3). The church is made one with Christ like a head and a body being one (Eph 1:22-23). One of her special blessings arising from her unification with Him is that she may reign with Him (Eph 1:10-11). When He rules, she rules as it were automatically with Him. There is no other way. How could the Head reign without the body reigning?
The Effect of the Interpretation
All that Daniel has come to know, he keeps in his heart. For him it is not theoretical knowledge, not scientific niceness, but he is closely involved in everything, it pervades his being. If Daniel already has such an overwhelming impression of the things concerning God’s earthly people, what impression should it make on us who are so much better acquainted with the Lord Jesus? The history revolves around Christ and His people. His future and our connection with Him in it should impress us deeply and determine our vision of world history and our lives.
It is about keeping these things in our hearts and making it visible in our lives that we have understood what God has shown about the future of the world, of His Son and of His own.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Daniel 7". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12