Prophecies in Daniel
The four beastsBabylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome
These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.
In the first year of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream of four fantastic beasts, arising from a stormy sea.
Daniel was an old man at this time, but his dream paralleled an earlier dream given to king Nebuchadnezzar II, and to himself in his youth. The earlier dream, recorded in Daniel 2, was of a great metallic idol composed of four metals and clay, and a stone that destroyed it. The four metals of this idol – gold, silver, brass, and iron – corresponded with the four beasts. Each represented an empire arising in succession, overcoming the previous one. These empires were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
You can read about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the image and its interpretation on this page.
You can read the entire biblical passage concerning the vision of the four beasts either in a pop-up here or at the bottom of this page.
Just as these four empires were negatively represented in the earlier vision as idol-like, they are also portrayed in this vision as beast-like. In the ancient world, fantastic beasts composed of various animal and human parts were monsters, dangerous and powerful.
In the Bible, such beasts, and animals, were used to symbolise nations and empires. The various parts emphasised some aspect of that nation, such as their ferocity (lion’s teeth), or their swiftness (eagle’s wings) in battle, or their far reach (horses). A passage in Habakkuk demonstrates this kind of imagery in the description of the Chaldeans of Babylon:
For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. Habakkuk 1:6–8
The animals also often had local reference, just as we associate native animals with their nations. (You can read more about animals as symbols in Bible prophecy here.)
The fourth beast
The four beast-empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome are described below, but the fourth beast is the most important and most expounded upon empire in the prophecy. This empire was to be different – “diverse from all the others”. As discussed in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's image (see here), the fourth kingdom was to have two phases, and it is the second phase that forms the climax of these kingdoms. This is the papal phase of Rome's dominion, and it was to extend longer than all the other kingdoms and the imperial phase of Rome combined.
It is also a major theme of the book of Revelation, which itself is primarily the tale of the last two kingdoms – Rome, in both its pagan and papal aspects, and the kingdom of God.
The papal phase of Rome has dominated the Christian era. It is in this era that the “iron” kingdom of Rome becomes infused with other peoples, and broken up into the mingled “iron-and-clay” nations of Catholic Europe.
The fourth beast has ten horns, signifying the ten nominal kingdoms of Europe which arose out of the fall of the Western Empire. One small horn rose up among them at their beginning and supplanted three others. This horn was to be “diverse from the first” horns. It is not only a temporal king but also a religious power, having “eyes like the eyes of man”, or oversight of the ten kingdoms, and “a mouth speaking great things” against God and the true church. It signifies the dynasty of the papacy, whose popes assumed the title of “Pontifex Maximus” – a title previously held by the emperors of Rome, and which encompassed both political and religious authority. It was the position of high priest of the pagan worship, and was taken up by the emperors from the time of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire.
The interpretation according to Hippolytus
“The golden head of the image, and the lioness, denoted the Babylonians; the shoulder and arm of silver, and the bear, represented the Persians and Medes; the belly and thighs of brass, and the leopard, meant the Greeks, who held the sovereignty from Alexander's time; the legs of iron, and the beast, dreadful and terrible, expressed the Romans, who hold the sovereignty at present; the toes of the feet, which were part of clay and part of iron, and the ten horns, were emblems of the kingdoms that are yet to rise; the other little horn that grows up among them meant the Antichrist in their midst; the stone that smites the earth and brings judgment upon the world was Christ.”
Treatise on Christ and Antichrist
Hippolytus, AD 170–235
A time and times and the dividing of time
This power was to dominate the nations of Europe and nominal Christianity for a specific time, symbolically described variously as “a time and times and the dividing of time”, “forty and two months”, and a “thousand two hundred and threescore days”. The three phrases can be reconciled by understanding the first to mean one time, two times, and half a time. A single “time” (or calendar year) represented 360 days, and so the phrase means 360+720+180 days, or 1260 days. A month was considered 30 days, and so 42 months is also equal to 1260 days.
In the symbolic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, where these time periods are mentioned many times, time is often also symbolic. In the Bible, including the “Seventy Weeks” (490 years) prophecy of Daniel, God sometimes appoints a day to represent a year (such as the 40 days for 40 years wandering in the wilderness of Numbers 14:33, and the day for a year to represent the sin of Israel and Judah in the symbolic act of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 4:4–6]). Viewed as years these and similar time periods in Daniel and Revelation also define important soli-lunar astronomical cycles – a fact first discovered by the Swiss astronomer, De Cheseaux, in the 1600s.
You can read much more detail on this entire subject in two of the extracted booklets downloadable on this website (A Day for a Year, and The Year-Day Theory).
To consume and destroy it
Towards the end, the other nations of Europe would begin to hate the Roman system, and God would take away its dominion, “to consume and destroy it unto the end”. This is the same power the apostle Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians 2:
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 2 Thessalonians 2:8
The gradual consuming of this power began around the time of the Reformation. It was particularly driven by “the spirit of his mouth” – a phrase that indicates the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit of God. The Bible began to be translated into the common tongues and printed for all to read.
While the consuming of both the temporal and religious aspects of this power continued greatly in the French Revolution and its aftermath, it will not finally be destroyed until Christ’s return brings the full light of revelation and understanding to the world.
A pseudo kingdom of God
The fourth beast, being both the final beast kingdom of man, and the one to fill the entire New Testament age, the age of the Church, is truly the ultimate danger of history. It is a completely pagan power transformed and revived into a great pseudo-christian power masquerading and presenting itself as the prophesied Kingdom of God. But the idolatry of of pagan Rome was simply replaced by the idolatry of papal Rome. The iron of Rome in Nebuchadnezzar's idol continues through both.
The ten hornsThe fourth beast, which represents Rome, had ten horns. This beast corresponds to the iron in the vision of Nebuchadnezzar's image. The ten horns represent the breakup of the Western Empire, the origin of the Roman Empire, into the nations of Europe over which Rome continued to hold sway.
The stout horn with eyes and mouthAn eleventh horn arose among the ten horns and supplanted three of them. Though its beginnings were “little”, its appearance became greater and more imposing, and it was “diverse” from the other horns. This was the papal kingdom, the continuing iron of Rome, mingled with the clay nations of Europe.
The chart of history and prophecyThe four empires of man, and the kingdom of God, in Daniel, Revelation, and history. This chart is available in the book Key to the Apocalypse, by H. Grattan Guinness (freely downloadable here).
The Four Beast Kingdoms
Lion with eagle's wings
The majesty of the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar's vision is reflected here in the lion and the eagle. Babylon was both powerful and swift.
The story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s “seven times” descent into a beast-like state in Daniel 4 represents the entire line of kingdoms before the change that will occur with the coming of the Kingdom of God. Nebuchadnezzar's pride at the height of his glory saw him reduced to an animal-like state without reason or understanding for seven years. His personal testimony records that at the end of those days his reasoning and understanding returned to him when the lesson was learnt “that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will”.
In this recognition and repentance he was lifted up from an animal degeneracy into something more like the man God originally made in his own image. Nebuchadnezzar's life demonstrated both the glory of gold and the savagery of the beast. He was a great builder, a powerful king, but also idolatrous, proud, and boastful. Yet in his ability to be humbled and changed, he also represents the ultimately blessed state of humbled mankind that God will bring to pass when he establishes his rule upon the earth – when his “will be done in earth as it is in heaven”.
The all-devouring bear
The Medo-Persian empire represented by the all-devouring bear was an alliance of the Medes and Persians. Daniel foretells the fall of the kingdom of Babylon “to the Medes and the Persians", and records the taking of the city by Darius the Mede. Darius was succeeded by Cyrus the Great of Persia, who was forenamed in the prophecies of Isaiah and foretold to be the one who would set in motion the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple.
In Daniel's prophecy of the ram and the he-goat in chapter eight, the ram and its two horns were interpreted as “the kings of Media and Persia”. Though both horns were “high”, one came up after the other and became the greater. The Persians became the greater and more active power in the alliance, and this may also be represented in the bear rousing itself unequally on one side.
The three ribs in the bear's mouth correspond most particularly to the conquered nations of Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt, which were among those in the three directions of the ram's pushing – “westward, northward, and southward”.
The Persians were a massive empire and cruel, and like the bear, could be aggressive and rapacious.
The Persian Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great, and the swiftness and extent of his victory is represented by the leopard and its four wings.
Alexander died at the height of his strength, and his empire was ultimately divided into four notable parts under his generals. These four parts of the Greek, or Macedonian, Empire are represented by the four heads of the leopard. They are also represented by the four notable horns of the he-goat in the prophecy of chapter eight which arose after the breaking of the great horn (Alexander). The empire was divided “toward the four winds of heaven” under Seleucus in the east, Cassander in the the west, Ptolemy in the south, and Lysimachus in the north.
Out of these four, two were particularly noted in the later prophecies of Daniel concerning Israel as the “king of the South” (in Egypt), and the “king of the North” (in Syria). The latter saw the era of Antiochus Epiphanes, the great persecutor of the Jews and their temple, in the time of the Maccabees. The final overthrow of the Greek power took place at the victory of Octavian over Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemy line in Egypt, and with the subsequent establishment of the Roman Empire.
The Greek language and culture overspread the nations before the arrival of the Romans, and together with the translation of the Old Testament into Greek in Alexandria (founded by Alexander in Egypt), the way was prepared for the understanding and propagation of the gospel in Jesus' time throughout the Roman Empire.
The ten-horned beast
The fourth beast-empire was the great power of Rome. It was to be the beast in existence throughout the New Testament age, and therefore the empire that affected Christianity as well as Israel.
This beast corresponds with the legs of iron and feet of iron and clay in the vision of Nebuchadnezzar's image, and includes both pagan and papal Rome. The ten horns represent its divided phase in the nations of Europe after the fall of the Western Empire. It is represented in the book of Revelation by the ten-horned Dragon and Beast of chapters 12, 13, and 17, and its progress and conflict with the kingdom of God is the dominant subject of the Seven Seals prophecy in that book.
Rome at its height encompassed the entire Mediterranean Sea, and absorbed the ancient realm of Greece. The empire's western and eastern, or Roman and Grecian, halves are reflected in the “teeth of iron” and the “nails of brass” of the beast – the metals in the image of Nebuchadnezzar which represented Rome and Greece. These were also the metals that symbolically bound Nebuchadnezzar in his beast-like state (Daniel 4:15). These halves eventually divided into the Western and Eastern Empires, but it is in the original dominion of Rome and its seat in the west that the ten horns, or ten kingdoms of the Roman beast arose.
The removal of the Roman Emperors to Constantinople in the east made way for the popes to rise to power in their place in the city of Rome. This was the “let”, or hindrance, “taken out of the way” before the rise of the "man of sin" spoken of by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The Kingdom of God
The Second Coming
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
. . . . .
And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
Daniel 7:13-14, 27
THE FINAL KINGDOM is the Kingdom of God, the kingdom from heaven. It is the rule of God established for eternity upon earth and among all the people of earth at the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is its king.
This coming kingdom in Daniel's visions is the kingdom Jesus preached. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God in his parables, demonstrated its power and character in his miracles, and taught that we must be “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5) to enter and inherit it.
Jesus spoke of himself as the “Son of man” who would come with great power and glory in the clouds of heaven.
But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
Though the kingdom of God was conceived in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as concerns the individual, it does not come to the birth in the world as a whole until his second coming.
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
. . . . .
So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
At his coming, the kingdom of God and of Israel is restored – “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
More detail …
The Visions of Daniel and the Revelation ExplainedE.P. Cachemaille, c.1917
Daniel and the RevelationJoseph Tanner, 1898
Daniel 7The Four Beasts
1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.
2 Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.
3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.
4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.
5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.
6 After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.
8 I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
9 I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.
10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
11 I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.
12 As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.
13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
15 I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.
16 I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.
17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.
18 But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.
19 Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;
20 And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.
21 I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;
22 Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
23 Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.
24 And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.
25 And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
26 But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.
27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
28 Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.