Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts

by Mike Ratliff

1 And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.
Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” Revelation 13:1-4 (NASB) 

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 in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it. 2 Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ 6 After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts. Daniel 7:1-8 (NASB) 

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 a 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 “I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire.
10 “A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him;
Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,
And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat,
And the books were opened.
11 Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.
13 “I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed. Daniel 7:9-14 (NASB) 

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 cut out 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 was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 16 I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18 But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’
19 “Then I desired to know the exact meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its claws of bronze, and which devoured, crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet, 20 and the meaning of the ten horns that were on its head and the other horn which came up, and before which three of them fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts and which was larger in appearance than its associates. 21 I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them 22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.
23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’
28 “At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself.” Daniel 7:15-28 (NASB) 

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?

Soli Deo Gloria!