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In the first year of Belshazzar’s reign over Babylon, Daniel had a dream and saw visions as he slept in his bed. When he got up, he remembered the dream and wrote it down. This is the beginning of his record:

These events most likely take place in 554 b.c. They are a flashback to before the feast in chapter 5.

Daniel: As I dreamed that night, I saw a vision: I was looking and saw the four winds of heaven blow in from all directions and sweep across the surface of the Mediterranean Sea,[a] whipping up waves and turmoil within the deep. Four great beasts rose up from the churning waters, each one different from the other. The first to surface was like a lion. It had giant wings like an eagle’s protruding from its shoulders. I watched as suddenly its feathers were plucked and its wings removed. The great beast was lifted up from the earth so that it could stand on two feet like a human being. Then it was given human intellect. After this I looked and saw a second beast rising from the sea, this one resembling a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and in its mouth, gripped tightly between its teeth, were three ribs. And the bear was told to get up and devour even more flesh. After witnessing this, I continued to look and saw another beast appear from beneath the waves. This one was fierce and fast like a leopard. It had a bird’s wings like the lion, but two pairs instead of one coming out of its back. It had four heads, and men bowed to this beast, and it was permitted to rule over them. While I continued to gaze at this vision that night, a fourth beast arose. As if from a nightmare, it was terrifying, more awful and more powerful than anything I had ever seen. Its enormous iron teeth devoured and shattered its prey. Everything was crushed beneath its massive feet. And this fourth beast was unlike the previous three, having ten horns protruding from its head. As I stared at the creature and wondered about the ten horns, suddenly another horn grew out of its head, smaller than the rest. Three of the first horns were pushed up from their roots to make room for the little horn. It appeared to have eyes like a human and a mouth that boasted and bragged of its great exploits.

    As I watched the vision unfold,
        thrones were set in place,
    And the Ancient of Days took His throne above all.
        His clothes were the purest white, as white as snow,
        and the hair of His head was like the finest wool.
    His throne was a flaming fire,
        set on wheels that blazed like the sun.
10     A stream of fire emerged and flowed from His presence.
        Thousands upon thousands of heavenly beings were there to serve Him;
        millions upon millions stood by to attend Him.
    The heavenly court sat to hear a case,
        and the books of judgment were opened.

11 I continued to look on the scene and heard the clatter of arrogant words spoken by that smaller horn. And as I watched, the verdict was given, and the sentence enacted: the fourth beast was slain, and its body was destroyed, delivered over to the consuming fire. 12 As for the other beasts, their power and position were taken away, but they were allowed to live for a little while longer.

13     I saw another spectacle in the night visions:
        I looked and saw someone like a son of man
        coming with the clouds of heaven.[b]
    He approached the Ancient of Days
        and was ushered into His presence.
14     To Him was given authority, honor, and a kingdom
        so that all people of every heritage, nationality, and language might serve Him.
    His dominion will last forever,
        His throne will never pass away,
        and His kingdom will never be destroyed.

15 As for me, Daniel, I was deeply disturbed by all that I saw; these night visions terrified me. 16 So I approached one of the heavenly beings standing before the flaming throne and asked him to explain exactly what had happened. So he did. And this is what he told me it all meant, the interpretation he gave me to all I had seen and heard:

Heavenly Being: 17 The four great beasts you saw that rose from the wind-whipped sea are four kings who will rise from the earth and come to rule vast empires. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High God will receive that kingdom which will last for all the ages to come, forever and ever.

Daniel: 19 But I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand the whole truth about the fourth beast. It was different from the other three, so fearsome with its iron teeth and bronze claws devouring and shattering its prey and trampling everything in its path beneath its massive feet.

The beasts can be identified by a careful study of history. The lion, bear, leopard, and fourth terrifying beast represent Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. Persia had four kings, so the leopard had four heads. The ten horns of the fourth beast with iron teeth represent the ten dominant Seleucid kings after Alexander the Great’s empire splintered into four regions. The smaller horn is Antiochus IV who put down three potential Seleucid leaders (horns) before him.

Just because a prophecy has been fulfilled once, it doesn’t mean the prophecy is no longer instructive. Daniel’s prophecies are excellent examples of this idea. Written from the perspective of the Babylonian exile, these prophecies describe the coming suffering of God’s people under foreign rule and look forward to a time when God will liberate them. During the next 300 years, the Jews watch Daniel’s prophecies unfold. The Persian Empire is conquered by a Greek, Alexander the Great, in 333 b.c. Alexander’s short reign is followed by the division of the empire into four districts governed by his politically inexperienced generals; Israel is ruled by a string of cruel men—culminating in the reign of Antiochus IV who attempts to turn Jerusalem into a Greek city, bans the Torah, and even builds an altar to Zeus in God’s temple. In the face of such pagan influence, God instigates the Maccabean Revolt of 167-165 b.c. At that time, Jerusalem’s God-fearing traditions return, and Israel is ruled by the Jews. But these historical facts are not the end of God’s message. Within Daniel’s prophecies is a description of the end of the age, a time when evil will be punished and the Liberator will reign.

Daniel: 20 I was intrigued with the 10 horns on the beast’s head and that 11th horn that grew up and uprooted the other 3 horns, that horn with eyes like human eyes and a mouth that uttered arrogant words, that horn that looked greater than the rest. 21 I looked on as that 11th horn waged war against the holy ones; for a while it seemed it might triumph over them, that is, 22 until the Ancient of Days arrived and ruled in favor of the holy ones of the Most High. Now the appointed time had come when the holy ones took possession of the eternal kingdom. 23 The heavenly being told me,

    “The fourth beast, like the other three,
        represents a fourth kingdom that will rule on earth.
    This kingdom will be different from the rest;
        it will devour the whole earth
    And crush everything beneath its feet
        and shatter it all to pieces.
24     The 10 horns are 10 kings
        that will arise from this fourth kingdom.
    After these another king will come to power
        who will be very different from the kings before him,
        seizing power until he subdues three kings.
25     This king will speak out against the Most High,
        and try to wear down His holy ones;
    He will seek to alter the sacred times and special law God gave them,
        and they will be under his control
        for time, times, and half a time.
26     After this, the heavenly court will sit in judgment,
        his authority will be taken from him,
        and his supremacy over the earth will come to a permanent end.
27     Then the great ruling authority
        of the kingdoms under the heavens
    Shall be handed over to the covenant people,
        the holy ones of the Most High;
    Their kingdom will last forever,
        and all the remaining kingdoms will worship and serve Him.”

28 This is the end of his record.

Daniel: My thoughts on these matters upset me greatly. My face grew pale, but I kept it all to myself.


  1. 7:2 Literally, Great Sea
  2. 7:13 Mark 13:26; 14:62; Revelation 1:7; 14:14

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