Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts

by Mike Ratliff

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:1-4 ESV)

It is time to prayerfully step into the prophetic section of Daniel. I have had quite a bit of anxiety about tackling these books that are deeply eschatological. Why? My method of Bible teaching is to simply expound scripture. I try to limit input into my analysis of passages to Biblical references for the most part. I do not believe I am wise enough or schooled enough in eschatology to do justice to this study. However, God is able to open up His word to our hearts. As we look at these sections in Daniel let us carefully let scripture speak. God will give us the truth as He sees fit. Perhaps God will give us insight into His Word that we have lacked until now. If so, then it is God doing this, not me.

The Book of Daniel is not laid out in chronological order. For instance Chapter 7 takes place 14 years before the feast from Daniel 5 while Chapters 7 and 8 take place after Chapter 4, but before Chapter 5. With that in mind let’s read God’s Word with a heart intent on hearing what God has to say to us.

1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. 2 Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different 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 horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things. (Daniel 7:1-8 ESV)

Daniel flashes back to the beginning of King Belshazzar’s reign. He had a night vision given to him by God. When he awoke, he wrote down the dream completely. The dream or vision begins with a stormy sea stirred up by winds from every direction. The Great Sea refers to the Mediterranean. Then Daniel saw four beasts come up out of sea. They were different from each other. The first one resembled a lion with eagle’s wings. Daniel saw the first beast have its wings plucked off. Then it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand like a man. It was given the mind of a man. This is describing a kingdom or empire whose nature is swift and vicious like a lion. Notice that this beast is divinely given these characteristics. It was given a purpose by God to accomplish His will. This is describing Babylon. It corresponds to the head of gold from the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel Chapter 2.

The second beast from Daniel’s vision resembled a bear. One of its sides was greater than the other. It has three ribs in its mouth. It was told to conquer much. This beast corresponds to the silver portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s image from Daniel 2. Remember the silver portion of the image contained the chest and arms. One arm represented the Medes and the other the Persians. This second beast has one side greater than the other. At the beginning of the Medo-Persian empire, the Medes provided the military power that the Persians needed to overthrow Babylon. Ironically, the Medes came to the aid of the Babylonians in their war to be free of Assyria. It was the combined forces of the Medes and Babylonians who destroyed Nineveh in 614 B.C. Now we have the Medes combining forces once again, but this time with the Persians to conquer Babylon in 539 B.C. However, the Bear in Daniel’s vision has one side larger than the other. The larger, more powerful side is the Persians. This empire becomes huge. The three ribs in its teeth represent the nations that are conquered by the Medes and Persians.

The third beast from Daniel’s vision resembled a leopard. It had four wings of a bird and four heads. Again it was given dominion by God. This beast corresponds to the Bronze section of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. This beast is the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great. The wings represent its swift conquest of the Persian Empire. The four heads represent the four generals who inherited Alexander’s empire when he died. It was split into four sections: Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt.

The fourth beast from Daniel’s vision is not given a description that corresponds to a known animal. It is different. It was terrifying and dreadful. It was exceedingly strong. Its teeth were of iron. It destroyed or took apart what remained of the three previous empires. This beast had ten horns. However a little horn rises up to pluck out three of the ten. This little horn had eyes like man and a mouth that spoke great things. Some translations say that it spoke “pompous words.” This beast corresponds to the iron section of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. In these two dreams (visions) this “empire” becomes “extended” into another form that has ten entities. The image from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had two legs of iron, but the feet were made of iron and clay. Each of it’s ten toes represented ten kings. Daniel’s fourth beast has ten horns with a little horn plucking out three of them.

The Roman empire self-destructed. It eventually became two separate kingdoms. The Eastern Roman Empire had it’s capital in Byzantium. The Western Roman Empire was in Rome or other cities in Italy. The two legs in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represent this. It became fragmented after it fell apart in 476 A.D. The fourth beast will be revived with great unified strength near our Lord’s second coming. At that time, it will be made up of 10 parts under kings. There will be an 11th King who will depose three of the 10 as he comes to power. This is the little horn. This represents a human in that Daniel saw the eyes like man and a mouth boasting. The way it speaks tells us that the little horn is proud. Interestingly, Daniel’s vision immediately moves to the time of judgment by God on this fourth beast.

9 As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
11 I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

13 I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14 ESV)

God is Omnipotent and Sovereign! No matter how powerful and dreadful men’s kingdoms become, they are all subject to Him. When it’s time for judgment, then the ballgame is over. The fourth beast will be judged and destroyed even as the little horn spouts his boasting. This corresponds to the second coming of Christ, the stone cutout without hands that smashes Nebuchadnezzar’s image by striking the feet. In that vision the stone striking the image smashed it and it was not seen again. In Daniel’s vision the previous beasts or empires are still in place, but they have no dominion. Notice that just before Christ returns, the final form of the fourth beast will contain the three previous beasts. However, the Roman part is smashed and done away with. The three others do survive for a while, but have no power. The fourth beast in its final form will indeed be a world empire. However Christ’s Kingdom will replace it and it will never be destroyed.

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’
19 “Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, 20 and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.
23 “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth,
which shall be different from all the kingdoms,
and it shall devour the whole earth,
and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
24 As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
for a time, times, and half a time.
26 But the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and destroyed to the end.
27 And the kingdom and the dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
28 “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.” (Daniel 7:15-28 ESV)

As we see from this explanation, the little horn corresponds to the Antichrist. (Daniel 8:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10; and Revelation 13:1-10 where he is called the Beast.) He will be able to conquer much of the world. He will be able to make war against God’s saints and overcome them. However, when Christ comes, he will slay him with His breath. Notice that Christ is called the Son of man in vv13-14. That was Jesus Christ’s favorite title for Himself.

Just as Daniel’s thoughts greatly alarmed him, we should take these matters seriously. This isn’t speaking of things that might happen, but things that have already happened that are the basis of what is coming. What should we do? Shouldn’t we be about doing what our Lord told us to do before He ascended into Heaven? Those watching Him ascend into the clouds were told that He would return the same way. Therefore, let us be about making disciples, teaching them to observe all things that Christ commanded. When we obey our Lord, He is with us, enabling us, and sustaining us. Forget churchianity. Forget dead, cold orthodoxy. Forget health, wealth and prosperity non-gospels. Forget experiential Christianity. No, we need to preach the gospel as Christ and the Apostles preached it that all men are offenders of God’s Law and cannot do any good works that would save them from God’s wrath against their sin. Then we give them the good news of Christ’s work on the cross on their behalf. Then we tell them that they must believe on Him and repent and serve Him as their Lord with their whole heart. After all, God saves the ungodly and isn’t that what we all are?

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6 thoughts on “Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts

  1. Mike,

    I just want to say thank you. You bring such insight and wisdom. Your entries and studies are a breath of fresh air for my wife and I here in Alabama where there is such a great lack of sound teaching. This study in eschatology you’ve been putting together has really raised my awareness of current events and given me a renewed interest into these prophetic books. The prophets must be on many folks minds lately as Ezekiel is the book we just started a study in at our home church. Again, I thank Almighty God for men like you and the two men who are feeding our home church for the great, expository teaching that both you and they bring.



  2. Jordan,

    You are very welcome brother. I also thank you for encouraging me in the Lord. I think that you having a home church is awesome. I rejoice that God has given your church some good Bible teachers. You are indeed blessed. That is far better than many “churches” have where people are starved because they never are feed the meat from God’s Word.

    Yes, God is giving His teachers these messages. Every day is one day closer to meeting our Lord face-to-face. Come soon Lord Jesus!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  3. Is it just me or are Israel, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and others involved to this very day? One would think that God’s written revelation had some prophetic insight, no?

    The conclusion is being fullfilled before our eyes, to the glory of God Himself. Thirty-two years ago I would not have cared, but because of God’s grace I tingle with anticipation at the entance of the Savior King!!


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